Você está na página 1de 308

Cs U

la.

&&

or

TIBETAN ELDERS

SANDY JOHNSON

pr
US. A. $24.95
Canada $33.95

"When

the iron eagle

flies

and horses run on


go to the land of

wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered over

the earth and the

dharma

will

the red man."

-TIBETAN PROPHECY
flies,

"When

the iron bird

the red-robed people

of the East who have

lost their land will appear,

and the two brothers from across the great ocean


will

be reunited."

-HOPI PROPHECY
fr^il flral (TSil fr^il

A historically isolated people, the Tibetans have now


indeed come to the land of the red man, and nearly every

other country on earth.

When

the Chinese

invaded the country in 1959 and proceeded to destroy the ancient-wisdom culture as well as nearly a
sixth

of the population, hundreds of thousands of

Tibetans fled to India and parts west. In the 1980s,


the prophecy was fulfilled, and the Dalai Lama, exiled leader

of Tibet, met with Hopi and other Amer-

ican Indian elders in an effort to reunite the brothers.

Tibet's spiritual elders are dying off,

and

it is
lie.

<5

with them that so

many of

the secrets of survival

They

are the ones

who

can find by touching somedetect; they

one's wrist

what our medicine cannot

saw the empty spaces of the atom before science


considered the concept of subatomic particles; they

know how

to realign even severe emotional imbal-

ances without drugs or therapy; they


plants heal us (they have catalogued

know what
destruction;
at

more than two

thousand) and

how

to save

them from

they predicted the demise of their

own countrv

the hands of the Chinese; they saw the

coming of

AIDS
dying

almost ten centuries ago. These people are


off,
it

and with them, the wisdom we need to

make

through the next centurv and beyond.

After the Chinese occupation of their countrv,

many Tibetan elders were

killed in reeducation
^'Ccntmued on back
flap}

Digitized by the Internet Archive


in

2012

http://archive.org/details/bookoftibetaneldOOjohn

The Book of

TIBETAN ELDERS

RlVERHEAD Books New York


19
9 6

rftJR

The

Book of

TIBETAN

ELDERS
LIFE STORIES

AND

WISDOM FROM THE


GREAT SPIRITUAL

MASTERS OF TIBET

San dy Jo hns o n

^k

BR BR

BQ7920
,.B66

1996

154
Riverhead Books
a division of G.

P Putnam's Sons

Publishers Since 1838

200 Madison Avenue

New York, NY
Copyright

10016

1996 by Sandy Johnson


This book, or parts thereof,
in

All rights reserved.

may not be reproduced

any form without

permission.

Published simultaneously in Canada


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

The book

of Tibetan Elders

life stories
/

and wisdom from


Sandy Johnson.

the great spiritual masters of Tibet


p.

cm.

ISBN 1-57322-023-X
1.

Lamas

Biography.
I.

2.

Spiritual life

Buddhism.
CIP

Johnson, Sandy.

BQ7920.B66
294.3'923'0922dc20
[B]

1996
96-5 145

Printed in the United States of America


1

5
is

10

This book

printed on acid-free
BY

paper

BOOK DESIGN

DEBORAH KI-RNER

This book

is

dedicated to

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama,

and

to the heroic people of Tibet.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Apart from those whose words and wisdom grace

these pages,

am indebted to my editor at Riverhead Books, Amy Hertz, for inviting me to take this journey; and to my friend and agent, Jill Kneerim, for encouraging me to believe could. My thanks, too, to those who helped point
I

the way:

Nevada Wier, Lobsang Lhalungpa, Dechen Fitzhugh, and Peter

and Jennifer Tadd.


I

owe

a special

debt of gratitude and

"Jiilley" to Bill

and Adrienne

Kite for their thoughtful

and generous guidance

in

Ladakh; to

Lama

Rigzen

for his

dedicated translations; to

Morup Namgyal and

his family
Little) for

for their hospitality

and advice; and to both Angdus (Big and


to Betty Fussell for joining

many
for

kindnesses.

Thanks

me

in

Ladakh and

many of the

splendid photographs that appear in this book. For Sogyal


I

Rinpoche's photograph,
I

am

indebted to Heinz Nowotny.

wish to thank Tenzin

Wandrak

for his

kind help in Dharamsala,

and

especially for introducing

me

to Tsering

Choedon, whose

excellent

translations

and continued assistance were invaluable. Tenzin Geyche

Tethong, secretary to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, was most helpful in
arranging

my memorable

audience with His Holiness and in suggesting


of the Tibetan Institute of Medical

elders to interview

Jampa Kelsang,

and Astro Sciences, served


I

as translator in those specialized fields. for tak-

am

grateful to

Lee and Helen Maynard and to Margo Barr

ing on the difficult task of holding

down

the fort during

my travel to India.

In California, a thousand thanks to Kimberley

Snow for her painstakcame

ing transcriptions

and

editorial assistance,

and to her husband, Barry

Spacks, for his wise and caring suggestions. Countless teachings

with their help, as well as an enduring friendship. Both Lisa Leghorn and

Chokyi, of the

Chagdud Foundation, made


at

valuable contributions; and

Wangdu,
the

monk-student

UCLA,

translated

and transcribed some

of

more

difficult tapes.

Thanks
cheering

to

Adam Rodman
Adams

for technical support,


for

and to Anne

for

me

on; to Julia

long walks and

warm

talks that kept

me
to

sane;

and to Martin Wassell


elders, for

for his
I

good counsel. Carol Moss led


indebted; Jeff Cox, of

me

some precious

which

am

Snow Lion

Publications, offered generous factual assistance;

and Nanci Ross shared


Paulus family for lob-

valuable information with me.


sters

Warm thanks to the

and love along the way.


Jorg Cantini was

my

wise and caring translator and advisor in

Switzerland, and remained so throughout the writing and preparation of

the book; Joanna Hess introduced

me

to

Salome Hangartner

in Zurich,

who

in

turn kindly led

me to Palmo Hafner and Jan Leiser, my hosts there.


as guides and,
for

Palmo and Khando Netsang acted


tors.
I

when

necessary, translaassis-

am

grateful to Jaqueline

Moulton

her eager interest and

tance during

my

stav in Switzerland.

A C A

A"

Ur L

E D G

T S

owe

a special

debt to the people at Lerab Ling in France: Patrick

Gaffnev, Susie Godfrey,

Zanna Zuckerman, and

to the staff,

who made

my visit so pleasant. Many of the translations were


sell,

difficult.

am grateful

to Jeremy Rus-

in

Dharamsala,

for

permitting

me to draw upon some of the same inmost enlightened puppy, who


sits

terviews previously published in "Cho-Yang."

And
on

for Tashi Delek, the world's


I

my

lap as

write this,

my

thanks to Bonnie Palmer,

who

let

me

have

the best of her "angels."

As always,
Johnson

am

grateful to

Mark Robinson;
Bill

to Billy

and Anthony

Johnson for allowing me to my heart; to Wendy Johnson for her unending inspiration and encouragement; and to my mother, who has grown with me during the writing of this book.
for their

enduring faith in me; to

put into print that which has always been in

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

CONTENTS

FOREWORD
INTRODUCTION
LITTLE TIBET

Xlll
I

9
2 O

SPACEMEN AND CAVE DWELLERS


THE MOUNTAIN
A LIFE

34
J 8

OF LUXURY

THE ORACLE OF WANLA


TIBET IN INDIA
5
/

46
63
J
I

PALACE INTRIGUES
GLIMPSES OF ANOTHER WORLD

THE SHAMBALA TOUR GUIDE

88

THE TALKING FROG

98
/

NOMADIC

LIFE

O O
I

MEDICINE AND ASTROLOGY


HIS

OJ
12
2

HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA

OUT OF INDIA

CHINESE INVASION AND OCCUPATION:


THE TAILOR, PART
II

WAR HEROES
SURVIVING THE INVASION

4 5
I

ARISTOCRACY

6J
I

MOVING ON
EDUCATING
A A
IN

YOUNG MONK
JUDGMENT
/
I

8 2
O

LESSON

THE TEACHER

9J

HEALING

DHARMA DYNASTY:
FROM TIBET TO THE WEST
2
I

GREEN TAR A

248
2 5 5 2
2

DHARMA

IN

THE MIDWEST
IN

KARMA: MADE

AMERICA
J4
2

PROPHECIES

THE OTHER OCEAN


EPILOGUE
2 8
I

J9

FOREWORD

Almost all the people who tell their stories in this book were,
like myself,

born

in Tibet.

Many

factors gave life in our

homeland

its

par-

ticular character.

The high

altitude

and harsh climate made

life difficult.

But on the other hand, food was plentiful and nutritious, and the water

little

and

air

were

clear.

The

soaring mountains

and

vast rolling

plains gave people great feelings of peace

and freedom.

We

shared this inspiring landscape with countless wild animals,

who

also lived freely, unafraid of

human
rise to

hunters. Ours was

an environment that readily gave

contentment, with

cause for the anxiety and tension that

afflict

the lives of

many of our

more crowded neighbors.

Of

course, there was

more

to

life

in Tibet

than the pleasures of a

beautiful landscape.

Wherever we

live in

the world, whatever our beliefs,

and whether we

are rich or poor, as

human beings we all want to be happy

and

free

from misery. In Tibet, the teachings of the Buddha have been a

strong and pervasive influence.


to happiness
is

From

these

we have

learned that the key

inner peace.

The

greatest obstacles to inner peace are dis-

turbing emotions such as anger and attachment, fear and suspicion, while
love

and compassion, a sense of universal

responsibility are the sources of

peace and happiness.

The Chinese

invasion and occupation of Tibet has been one of the

great tragedies of this century.


a result.

More than
its

a million

Tibetans have died as

An ancient culture, with

buildings, literature,
its

and

artifacts,

has

been attacked and


ers of its traditions

largely destroyed in

homeland, and the

living hold-

have been prevented there from passing them on.

And

yet in the face of such hardship,

many of us who escaped

into the

freedom

of exile have

been able to save something.

We have been able to preserve


What
is

our religion and culture and reestablish our institutions.

more,

both

in

Tibet and in

exile,

our sense of Tibetan identity and our determi-

nation that our nation

will

be

free

once more are undiminished.


a half decades,
is

Throughout the
treasure has

last three

and

much

that Tibetans

been

lost.

Nevertheless, there

a positive side

even to such a

disaster, for the values

we hold dear have been put

to the test.
I

Even
feel
I

though

myself have spent more than half


result.

my

life

as a refugee,

have personally benefited as a

The author
ders," not

refers to the
is

people whose stories are told here as

"el-

because there

anything special about growing old, but be-

cause of the experiences they have acquired and the examples they set for
those

who

follow.

Because they are the link between old Tibet and

new

generations of Tibetans, they are our elders. Their accounts reveal


aspects of the traditional Tibetan

many
in

way

of

life,

both

as

it

was practiced

Tibet and as
I

it

has been adapted to the changing circumstances.


is

believe there

a great deal in Tibet's religious culture, its

medical

FOREWORD

knowledge, peaceful outlook, and respectful attitude to the environment


that can be of widespread benefit to others.
I

hope that readers

of this
lives,

book

will find inspiration

and hope

in

it

to bring peace to their

own

and that they

also

may be prompted

to lend our cause their support.

His Holiness

The Dalai Lama

nfLyr V.
November 27, 1995

FOREWORD

The Book of

TIBETAN ELDERS

INTRODUCTION

In 1990
baffle

had an experience

that to this day continues to

me.

I'd

been working on an

historical

biography of a Catholic misin the


I

sionary recently beatified for her


late 1880s,

work among the Native Americans


where
I

and had come to


writing.

a point

stopped believing what

was

My

resistance

went beyond mere author's

crisis

when

it

burst into the visual form of a terrifying flash of

light that blazed across the

bedroom

of

my New York
I

City

apartment.

Out

of this strange light a face appeared.

was
al-

not to learn the reason for that incident for some time,

though

in the

months

that followed

would find the source of the apparia mystery.

tion, the face.

How

it

happened remains
I

Soon afterward,
to elders,

traveled to Native
in their

American

reservations to speak

who

told

me

own

words, from their

own wounded

hearts, the other side of the story: of the

war the missionaries waged

against the native people of this country a


elders
I

hundred

years ago.

met was Pete Catches, holy man

of the Oglala Sioux, the face

came

to call Grandfather, the of

man whose

had appeared

Among the man to me in the


I

bedroom

my apartment.
I

The

stories

heard so captivated

my heart

that they

became the

fo-

cus of The Book


Indians.

of Elders:

The

Life Stories

and Wisdom of Great American

By then I was

living in

Santa Fe, a place that attracts

many people

who

are interested in native traditions.

In April 1991, while

was researching the elders book, the Dalai


to

Lama came

to

New Mexico

meet with

tribal leaders

from the Hopi,


North American
by the

Navajo, and Apache nations. His four-day


tour,

visit,

part of his

marked the

fortieth anniversary of his nation's occupation

People's Republic of China.


discuss religious

The purpose

of these historic meetings was to


rights of indigenous peoples.

freedom and the sovereignty

Hopi
view that

spiritual leader

Martin Gashweseoma had told

me

in

an

inter-

if

you dropped
it

plumb

line

down from Hopi through

the cen-

ter of the earth,

would come out

at the holy city of

Lhasa in Tibet.
in

And

curiously, he'd

gone on, the words


reversed,

for

sun and

moon

Tibetan and Hopi

are the

same but

and many of both peoples' chants and symbols


a

are similar.

Martin also talked about


version, clearly a

prophecy Tibetans and Hopis share.


is:

The Hopi

modern one,

"When

the iron bird

flies,

the

red-robed people of the East

who have

lost their
will

land

will appear,

and the

two brothers from across the great ocean

be reunited." The Tibetan

version was given by the eighth-century sage


traveled from India to Tibet to establish

Padmasambhava, who had


there:

Buddhism

"When the iron


will

eagle

flies

and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people

be scattered

over the earth and the dharma will go to the land of the red man."
Intrigued,
I

managed

to gain an invitation to a

meeting

at the

mod-

ern concrete

gymnasium

of the Santa Fe Indian School,

where the Dalai

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

lama would be
ball

A platform had been erected between basketnets and scoreboards. A Tibetan national flag hung over the dais, and
speaking.
flags fluttered
filled

dozens of smaller prayer


tive

from the

rafters.

Students and Na-

American teachers

the stands; elders and invited guests sat in

front of

them on

folding chairs. Reporters set

up

their

cameras and video

gear along the walls, notebooks and jackets piled at their feet.

The

Dalai

Lama and

his attendants filed in, identical in their bur-

gundy-and-saffron monks' robes.

The

faces of the attendants were

solemn, their arms held loosely in their robes, their sandaled feet moving
silentlv

down

the aisle toward the dais, but the Dalai


It

Lama wore an

irrefig-

pressible smile.
ures,

was not that of one of the world's most venerated

but of a

man who

understood the absurdity of taking himself or his

position too seriously.

The

smile and the laughing eyes swept over the

crowd, inviting not awe but genuine, deep affection.


their seats

The monks took


a traditional in full cerea

on the platform and watched

performance of

dance by Native American children from Santa Clara Pueblo


monial
dress.

Then the young dancers presented the Dalai Lama with


(for

teddy bear, an ear of corn

planting

when he

returns to Tibet), a
a smile as childlike
orsilk

Navajo blanket,
as theirs,

pottery, a bolo tie,

and

a bracelet.
I

With

he thanked the children. 'As a monk,


is

do not normally wear

naments, but today


scarves

an exception." Then, draping ceremonial white


gifters as a blessing,

around the necks of each of the

His Holiness

presented the school with a hand-woven Tibetan rug.


In the speech that followed, the Dalai

Lama,

recipient of the

Nobel

Peace Prize in 1989 for his opposition to the use of violence as a means to
free his

homeland from

its

invaders, noted their

common struggle for selftheir language.

determination.

He

urged Native American leaders to develop long-term

plans to preserve their identities and,

most important,

"There are so many

similarities

between the Indian and the Tibetan peo-

SANDY JOHNSON

pies/' the Dalai in prehistoric

Lama

said. "I believe

we may have had common

ancestors

Central Asia."

The
in this
ters."
It

president of the Navajo Nation agreed.


is

"What happened

to us
sis-

country

happening now

in Tibet to

our Tibetan brothers and

was reported the next day that the Dalai Lama,

a shawl covering

his
lift.

shaven head, was taken to the top of the Santa Fe Ski Basin on a chair

On the way up he smiled and waved to surprised skiers, and at the top
at the

he stood looking
local paper,

surrounding snowcapped peaks. According to the

he said

wistfully, "It

reminds

me

of

my own country." my Native American manif I

had just completed


when
a call

the final edits on


editor.
I

uscript
similar

came from my
elders.

She asked

would

like to

do

book on Tibetan
I

"But

don't

know anything about Tibetan


culture five

culture,"

said.

"What

did you

know about Native American

years ago?" said


I

my editor.
but
I

was

flattered,

had strong misgivings. Didn't

it

take a person a

lifetime of study to understand the complexities of Tibetan

Buddhism?
the key
el-

Several lifetimes, in fact?

How would
talk to

go about learning

who

ders are,

and why would they

me? And

since they are constantly

reincarnating like perennials in a planetary garden, an elder could be four


years old.
I

hashed

this over
I

with

my editor, who filled me with assurances that


trouble.

once

got started

would have no
I

She had

several ideas

about

the lamas and teachers


to others.

might speak with. They

in turn

would

direct

me
sig-

From
nificant

the time

had made Santa Fe

my home,

was aware of the


first

number

of practicing Buddhists there, noticeable at

by the

prayer flags that adorned so

many

houses. Over dinner one night with

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

friends

who were
I

scholars of both Native

American and Tibetan Buddhist


to

traditions,

talked about

how my years of exploring one culture seemed


traditions were rooted in the

be leading seamlessly into an exploration of the other.


surprised.

My friends were not


same
spiritual

They believed both


I

earth and that

would

find the parallels striking.

They showed me pho-

tographs of their recent trips to India, Nepal, and Tibet.

We marveled at
coral,

the resemblances: the small stature of the people, their cheekbones, dark

copper

skin,

and long shiny

braids. Their

ornaments of turquoise,

and

silver

evoked images of the Hopi and Navajo.


I

The next morning


filled

found

a large

shopping bag on

my

doorstep,
it."

with books on Tibetan Buddhism, with a note attached:


Fascinated,
I

"Do

read about a people

who

believe in the existence of a

mystical

kingdom

of Shambala, a beautiful city

where extraordinary bevolition. It


is

ings live, cut off

from the outside world by their own

a place

of peace;

its

only weapons are


are

bows and arrows that have the nature


all

of ex-

alted

wisdom and

more powerful than

the destructive missiles in

the outside world.

Some

Tibetans view Shambala as metaphor for one's


it

own

inner spiritual journey and dedicate their lives to finding

within

themselves.

The myth

continues: As the forces outside Shambala get


call

worse and worse, the warriors of Shambala

on

their

own

strength, rise

up

against these negative forces,

and defeat them. People who have taken

the Kalachakra initiation

frequently given by His Holiness the Dalai


again in Shambala.
six

Lama

are the ones

who will meet

read of the devastation the Tibetans suffered at the hands of the

Chinese Communists; the destruction of


teries;

thousand Buddhist monas-

and the imprisonment of countless nuns and monks, among them


replace these teachers?
I

many great masters. I wondered, Who will


is

If

Tibet

lost,

who

will carry

on the ancient

traditions?

read the Dalai Lama's


at his spiritual

biography, Kindness, Clarity,

and

Insight,

and marveled

SANDY JOHNSON

greatness:

If

a tradition could
it

produce such an extraordinary being,


I

it

must be

valuable;

must be

preserved.

learned that those

who

survived

fled to India;

from there some went on to Europe, Canada, and America,


last

where they continue to give teachings. But these might be the


to have lived the tradition in their

people

own

sacred places, in the land where


I

the tradition and teachings had existed for twelve hundred vears.

felt

then a sense of urgency to record their


I

stories

and

their

wisdom.

sought the advice of scholars in

New York,

Washington, and Cali-

fornia,

and heard about

Tibetan

elder, a

much-loved and respected


Fe.

teacher,

who lived just two miles away from me in Santa


in

My journey,

it

seemed, would begin

my own backyard.
in

found Lobsang Lhalungpa


a hill just off the

his lovely

rustic

house

perched high on
Basin.

road that leads to the Santa Fe Ski

slight,

slender

man

of indeterminable age

fine-featured, with

brown almond-shaped

eyes, buttery skin,

and
I

a captivating

manner
is

he

welcomed me with

a smile

whose warmth,

would

learn,
it.

universal

among Tibetans, though I would

never quite get used to

We

sat in his large, airy living

room, with

its

wide span of windows


scriptures

that overlooked the valley below. Books,


in bright yellow cloth, lined the walls.

many of them

wrapped

and -embroidered
he explained,
is

in brilliant colors,

hung next
art

A hanging silk scroll, hand-painted to the fireplace. A thangka,


form.

a traditional

Tibetan

The

figures depicted

on

it

represent various meditational deities.

He
softly

set a tray of tea


in

and cookies on the

table in front of us,

and spoke

and patiently

simple language

mv

untutored ear could underI

stand.

A movement at the window caught mv eye.


on the

turned to see birds of

every description lighting

railing of his deck,

drawn perhaps,

as

was, to the magic of his words.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

told

him I wanted

to

know something about

the tradition that cre-

ated such a peaceful people, a people


state,

who

strive to attain the highest

buddhahood, the
spirituality

state of perfect compassion.

Where

did such pro-

found

come from?

He

explained:

"Buddhism
in a creator

is

not

a religion in the sense that Christianity, Juis.

daism, Islam, or Hinduism

Buddhism does not


is

subscribe to the belief

and

creation.

Buddhism

not a philosophy, a pure intellecis

tual criticism, or a love of

knowledge. Called dharma, Buddhism


spiritual discipline. It
is

a class
life

by

itself,

an alternate moral and

way

of

complete process of

human
and

transformation. As such,

Buddhism espouses
and
reality. Its ra-

individual responsibility
tional

intellectual insight into life

approach to overcoming existential trauma and interpersonal probis

lems

guided by a combination of wisdom and compassion. Thus,

cultivating

and perfecting

this

wisdom and compassion make up the heart

of Buddhist practice.

"Wisdom

here does not


is

mean

intellectual power; that

is

not true
is,

wisdom. True wisdom

seeing where the problem of

human

misery

what the solution

is,

and how we might perceive the true nature


is

of things.

"The

true nature of things

not easily perceptible to our senses.


is

Our
that

senses have limitations.

Wisdom

the true, sensitive vision of

mind

can penetrate ordinary appearances."


It

would be months before

would begin to comprehend that one

can actually
the senses

by means

of meditation

perceive the world


I

beyond what
listen

show us and

into the true nature of things.


I

continued to

to his explanations, trying as best

could to absorb the meanings.

"The

original

dharma

principles

came from Buddha, who discovered


began

them through his own compassion

for suffering beings. His mission

SANDY JOHNSON

from the

moment he

first

saw these

sufferings.

You

are born,
is

you grow old


the course of

every minute, then you get sick, and finally you die. This

ordinary

life.

But there are other

sufferings.

"Buddha gave up

his royal position (he


as a

was a prince),

left

the king-

dom, and wandered about


covered was,

mendicant

in search of truth.

What he disright in our

we don't need

to look for the answer outside;

it is

own

existence."

In

the summer

of 1994,

set

out on a journey to a destination ex-

actly halfway

around the globe


mendicant, but

as far as

one can go without heading


I

back

not

as a

as a journalist.

did not

know

if I

would

uncover any great truths or would come back with the knowledge that the
answers to suffering do indeed

would be led to extraordinary


bet,

my own existence. In time, though, meetings with the men and women of Tilie in
I

and to

a glimpse of a lost world struggling to survive in

each of the

four corners of the earth.

As

had

for
I

my previous book,

gave careful thought to


a definition

how I would
less to

define "elder."

had learned then that such

had

do

with age than


timeless; of

it

did with a state of attainment

of

wisdom ancient and

knowledge of practices and powers held only by those who

embody

the teachings.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

LITTLE TIBET

Though
to begin there.

so

many

great teachers have left Tibet,

thought

had

Lobsang Lhalungpa had cautioned


would never

into Tibet as a writer; the Chinese

me not to try grant me a visa.


I

to get

could

put "housewife" as

my occupation on my application, but still

would not
a tape
I

be able to interview Tibetan people


recorder

even without

is

for fear of

endangering them. "The Tibet

once

knew," he'd said

sadly, "is

no more.
it

It will

never be the same.

So what

Tibet

really? Is
is it

this extraordinarily beautiful


its

piece of land, or
people, and
I

the people and


is

culture?

If it is

the

believe

it is,

then Tibet
I

wherever the people

are."

He and
which

others suggested that

first

go to Ladakh, "Little Tibet,"

where many Tibetans have settled during the Chinese occupation, and
is

similar to Tibet geographically

and

culturally. Situated

high in

the Himalayas on the Tibetan plateau,

it is

the last

place where one can

see

something of what Tibet had been before the Chinese invaded. Alas

most
off

high as Tibet, Ladakh


for nine

is

reachable by a

main route
it

that

is

closed

by snow

months

of the year, giving

the same "Shangri-la"


strategic location

mvstique that Tibet once had. And, because of

its

on

the border where India meets China and Pakistan, Ladakh had been
closed to outsiders from the end of

World War
Ladakh.

II

until 1974.

Only

since

1979 have there been

airline flights into

Buddhism came
bet

to

Ladakh eight centuries before


of Christ
itself.

it

ever reached Tidays, the

three
is

hundred vears before the birth

and these

country

probably more Tibetan than Tibet

writer friend

and indefatigable world


for a time. It

traveler,

Betty Fussell,
I

promised to join

me

was decided: That summer 1994,

would begin
its

my

travels into the mysterious

world of Tibetan culture and


"quick
vi-

particular

form of Buddhism known


is

as Yajrayana, literally the

path," bv which the practitioner


sualizion into a
a lotus

reshaped through meditation and

buddha.

A symbol that is often used in Vajrayana is that of


Our mind,
like

blossom, which grows out of the mud.


is

the lotus,

is

innately pure, but this purity


bitual patterns.

obscured by poisonous emotions and ha-

Our task is

to rid ourselves of these defilements in order to

uncover our true nature. Vajravana abounds with methods and techniques
for

chipping away the

mud

and uncovering the

crystal.

The

goal

is

to

achieve not only enlightenment, but complete buddhahood.

It is like

imagining that we

all

could

become

Christ.
I

From Ladakh

in

northern India,

would go on

to Dharamsala, the

seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, then flv to Nepal,


still

where

might

be able to enter Tibet


I

itself

as a tourist.

flew

from Albuquerque, where

mv

youngest son, Anthony,


It

lives.

As we said good-bye, he handed


dressed to

me

a notecard he'd written.

was ad-

"The JournevMom" and

carried a

message of love and sup-

10

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

port,

and prayers and


I

for a safe return.

As we hugged, Anthony gave


I

me

stern look

said,

"You come back."

laughed and assured him

would.

From

there

flew to Los Angeles, where

my

middle son,

Billy, lives.

We

spent the day shopping for last-minute gear, and after a farewell dinner

he took
a lens

me

to the airport for

my

night

flight.

As we unloaded

my

bags,

suddenly flew out of

of

its

own, and landed


I

at

my glasses, as if propelled by some awful force my feet. Billy looked at me in dismay. How
journey alone

could

possibly

make

this

when

couldn't even leave Los

Angeles in one piece?


I

have three sons,

all
I

of

whom

are, of course, a

good deal younger


I

than
since

I.

But from the time

became

single,

and more important,

suppose,

my bout
sister.

with breast cancer, they tend to treat

me

like a

worrisome

younger

Mark, the

eldest, swears

my gravestone ought to read, "We


fragments of

Think She's Here."


As
I

sped through the night to


the stars that

my destination,
I

memoI

ries flickered like

hung

just off the wingtip.

When

was

in

my teens, my grandfather used to say


and
ing
fastest bird in the

was

like

the peregrine, the smallest

upper
I

sky,

not

known
I

for its nesting skills. Reflect-

my peripatetic life, wondered how had told me was like the robin. Would my
on
I

might have turned out


children be

if

he

coming

for

Sun-

day dinner to the house where they had grown up, instead of seeing
at airports

me off

and memorizing new phone numbers?

During the flight,


betan Buddhism
I

dug

into one of the several books


I

on Ti-

had brought with me. The more

read, the

more ap-

parent the parallels between Native American and Tibetan cultures

became. In
spirit

their ceremonies, Native

Americans

call

on ancestors
in the

in the

world; Tibetan Buddhists meditate on the

Buddha

form of

different deities. Native

Americans go to sacred places

in the hills

on

vi-

SANDY JOHNSON

11

sion quests; Tibetan holy

men

seal

themselves off in caves to meditate. As

Lobsang Lhalungpa had pointed out, both cultures revere the earth and
all its

creatures.

The

teachings

the Way,

called

Dharma by Buddhists

are

what Native Americans


Back
in

refer to as the

Red Road.

Santa Fe, Lobsang Lhalungpa had told me:

"There are fundamental


dhist

similarities

between Tibetan Budintensely

and Native American

beliefs.

Buddhism

is

humane.

It

speaks of concern for others:


that includes ecology.

community concern, and

a universal concern

"For instance,

when

the

Buddha was

alive,

during the rainy season,

he would hold the

retreats for the

monks

inside a hut in the village, not


killing the insects.

outside, for fear of destroying the grasses

and

Even now,

when monks go out

into the forest, they are not supposed to break

branches or pick flowers. This strong sense of respect for the natural world
is

shared by the American Indian.

"Both cultures are animistic: they view nature as not


of trees, but a real living thing.

just a collection
ele-

Each

tree,

each body of water, each

ment

exists as a habitat of a particular spiritual force.

Thus, when you hurt

a tree,

you hurt not only that

tree,

but

its spirit

as well."

Lobsang also had mentioned


nese are rounding up thousands of

the terrible similarities between

the destruction of both peoples and their traditions.


five-

To

this day, the

Chi-

and

six-vear-olds, taking

them

away from

their parents,

and sending them

to China, just as

American

missionaries forced native children into boarding schools in order to

"Christianize" them. Tibetan children return to their families speaking

Chinese and embracing Chinese mentalities.


In the process of colonizing Tibet, the

Communists destroyed some

12

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

six

thousand monasteries and arrested and tortured nuns and monks.


is

"If

this

karma," Lobsang

said, "it

is

very bad

karma we are now experiencing."

It
rise

seemed like

days after

my

plane took off


it

Did

see the sun


at

twice?

that

we landed in Delhi, where

was night again. I was met

the gate bv a small

man with a thin mustache, who bowed and introduced

himself as Kushor, sent by the travel agency that had arranged

my flight to
all

Ladakh.

wondered how he managed to pick me out of the crowd, since

the faxes I'd been receiving from the travel agency were addressed to "Mr.

Sandy." Kushor 's instructions were to collect

me and my luggage and take


to

me in a chauffeur-driven car to a hotel an hour's ride from the airport. glanced up at the clock as registered. "What time's my flight
I

Ladakh?"

asked Kushor.
in at the airport at six,

"You must check


I

madam," he

said pleasantly.

looked at him. "Six in the morning?"

"Yes,

madam."

"Four hours from now?"


"Yes,
rest."
I

madam.

will call for

you

at five."

He bowed. "Have
and
I

good

had

just

enough time
call

to shower, change clothes,

lie

on the bed

before the wake-up

that might or might not come.


to the Far East.
I

thought back to

another
cation;

trip

had taken

was with

friends;

we were on

va-

we
I

sat in first class

and drank champagne and ate

caviar sand-

wiches.

flirted

with the captain.

Rolls

Royce met us

at the airport in

Hong Kong and whisked

us off to the Peninsula Hotel. As the red eye of


I

the clock blinked the minutes,

wondered
I

if it

were possible to have

all

one's reincarnations in one lifetime.


of
life

was certainly

living a different kind

now.

The money

save

on

coach seat goes toward survival on the

road.

SANDY JOHNSON

Flying from Delhi


preconceived notions about

to

Ladakh

requires an act of surrender of

all

travel.

A ticket

on India

Airlines (otherwise
is it

known

as Air Chance) does not guarantee a seat.

Nor

guaranteed

there even will be a flight. (There are only three flights a

week

into

Ladakh.) Taking just a short hop, only thirty minutes, the plane
rectly over the

flies diis

Himalayas and lands on a small

airfield

on

a plateau that

one of the highest


in only

in the world. Since landings

and

takeoffs can

be made
if

one direction on the

single runway,

which runs steeply


if

uphill,

the

wind happens to be blowing the wrong way that day or


denly clouds over, the flight must be canceled.

the airfield sud-

So the bewildered

traveler sits

on the hard wooden benches

of the

windowless Delhi Airport waiting room in a jet-lagged stupor, no longer


able to determine
a.m. or p.m. It
if

the clock on the wall that reads eleven o'clock


air

means

was crowded; the

was

stale.

Babies swaddled in the folds of

mothers'

saris wailed.

People dozed

fitfully,

heads draped over backs of


the loudspeaker

benches, legs sprawled into narrow

aisles. Periodically,

crackled unintelligible announcements.

Once
to Ladakh,

or twice

approached the

ticket

counter to ask about the

flight

and was met with the yes-no-I-don't-know gesture of the head


a helpless shrug of the shoulder that put an

accompanied by
ther questions.

end

to fur-

A lovely
woman

Hindu woman wearing

a sari the color of


I

lime sherbet sat

opposite me, a squirming infant in her arms.

smiled at the baby; the

smiled back.
dry.
I

"It's a girl,

but they

let

me

keep her anyway."

My
to

mouth went

dared not ask.


British couple arrived
this flight before

Finally, a

young

and

sat

on the bench next


ropes.

me. They had made


called at last,

and knew the

Our

flight

was
is

and we lined up

for a final security check.

Because Ladakh

14

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

a sensitive border area,


teries

my English friends explained, security is tight.


flashlights,

Bat-

were removed from

cameras, and computers and tagged

for

pickup at the other end. Checked-in baggage had to be identified out-

side

on the tarmac

prior to boarding or

it

wouldn't be loaded onto the

plane.

The
seat for

aircraft
I

was a small old Boeing 737.


told
is

was lucky to get

window
It

what
first

had been

the most spectacular flight in the world.


I

was

mv

view of the Himalayas.

stared, breathless, as

we skimmed

the jagged, dazzling white peaks of

Nun and Kum

that tore through the

clouds and reached 23,300 feet.

To the north was K2 (Mt. Godwin


I

Austin), the second highest mountain in the world.

looked

down

as

we

began our approach

to the Indus Valley below,

and

realized

why

so few pi-

lots are qualified (or willing) to sign

on

for this particular flight.

Sand-

wiched between two mountains and heading


plane banked sharply to the
left

straight for a monaster}; the

and miraculously landed.


I

The
The
air is

first

thing

noticed as

walked to the terminal was the


light so

light.

thin at that altitude,


I

and the

evanescent that objects


over.

seemed

to shimmer.

looked up at the mountain we had just flown


inside a cloud.

The peak had disappeared

No one was there


was going.
I

to

meet me. Taxi

drivers asked

me

where

gave the

name
I

their heads. Frantically,


tel's

my hotel, Hotel Stok. Frowning, they shook searched my bag to produce a letter with the hoof
flight.
I

name on
r

it.

My

English friends had long disappeared, along with

ever\ other passenger

on the

was alone

at the airport. Finally,


driver.

found the

letter

and showed

it

to the

one remaining

"Oh, Stok."
"But that's what
"No, no," he
I've

been

telling you, Stock."


"

said.

"Not

'Stahk.' 'Stok'

SANDY JOHNSON

The

small rural village where the hotel stands

is

fifteen miles

from
of

the town of Leh, past

meadows

of dizzying green
I

and golden pastures

wheat and

barley.
if

During the journey,


they had had a lot of
I

leaned forward in

my

seat

and

asked the driver


sky

rain.

The
I

driver looked
sat

up

at the

and

said,

"No,

don't think

so. It

looks nice."

back

in

my seat. We

came

to a bridge strung with


river.

hundreds of prayer
is

flags,
is

which crossed a
the Indus River."

fast-flowing

"What

river

this?"

asked. "This

The
and

Indus, I'd read, originates near the holy site of Mt. Kailash in Tibet
is

responsible for nourishing these pastures

and turning them

this

color that hardly

seems possible on

earth.
in bright red dotted the
I

Whitewashed stucco farmhouses trimmed

countryside, each with yards bordered by stone walls.

was excited by

what

thought was a yak and pointed

it

out to the

driver.

He shook

his

head. "Not yak, dzo. Half yak, half cow."

A little farther on he pointed to a

massive animal with longer


falo,

hair, a

smaller version of the American bufbuffalo of old provided the Native


is

and

said,

"There
with
all

is

yak."

The

American

tribes

their needs; the yak

similarly used: the milk

and

flesh for butter

and meat; the

hair for ropes, tents,

and

jewelry; the hide

for boots
fuel.

and baskets; the horns

for agricultural tools;


fully

and the dung

for

Both animals are themselves

stocked supermarkets.

A
down

herd of multicolored long-haired goats meandering unattended

the road brought us to a halt.

The

driver

pounded

his horn, leaned

out of the window, and yelled at them, then nudged them with his

bumper

until they skipped out of the way.

Finally,

we turned
same

into the hotel driveway.


I

The Hotel Stok

is

a larger

version of the
to take
side
I

architecture
I

had been

seeing.

Two

boys rushed out

my luggage;
staircase.

followed

them

past a garden in brilliant bloom. Ina

found no lobby or reception desk, only

darkened hallway and a


wall,

wooden

My luggage

was stacked against the

but the boys

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

had gone.

stood looking at the closed doors, feeling what


strange land.

it

means

to

be

a stranger in a very

When a tall, athletic-looking man with a


I

blond ponvtail appeared, smiling, holding out his hand,


with
relief.

wanted to

cry

"Tell

me you're

Bill Kite;

you have to be

Bill

Kite."

He apologized for not meeting me. When


the morning, he explained, he was sure
it

the flight hadn't arrived in


led

had been canceled. He

me

up the
he

stairs to

my large corner room.


need to get used to the
failed to rouse

"You probably ought to take a nap,"


altitude." Later, a
I

said. "You'll

knock

at the

door

announcing dinner

me, and

slept

till

the next morning.

After breakfast
his sheep, stick in

set

out for a walk.

passed a farmer herding

one hand, prayer wheel

in the other,

which he spun

'round and 'round as he

moved his lips

in steady recitation of mantras.

He

wore the traditional Ladakhi thick brown woolen robe tied

at the waist

with a bright-colored sash. His broad smile creased his weathered, nut-

brown

face,

and he

cried, "Julley!"
is

a greeting that

means

Hello,

Wel-

come, Blessings and

called out

morning and evening like

a song.

Bordering the road was a long mani wall, piled up stone by stone by
those

who wished

to earn merit.

Carved on many of the stones

is

"Om

mani padme hum"

("Praise to the jewel in the lotus," the

mantra of Tibet's

patron saint, Chenrezig, the Buddha of Great Compassion).

A garden with
astonished

marigolds

taller

than

and sunflowers the


its tail

size of a small tree

me.
wall

An

oversized magpie,

streaming behind, landed on the stone


green-black wings.
I

and

called loudly, fanning

its

felt as if

were

dreaming, walking through some otherworldly place where the stones and
flowers

and birds

are

symbols whose meanings are yet to be revealed to me,


sweet
I

and where the


ried

air is so

think

it

must be blessed by the

prayers carfly-

on the wind by prayer flags. They were everywhere, on every house,

ing from rocks high

on the mountainsides, faded and ragged and enduring.

SANDY JOHNSON

In

the afternoon,

Bill

and

his wife,

Adrienne, took

me into the

town
hotel.

of Leh.

We were driven by Little Angdu, nephew of the owner of the


name,
Bill

The

uncle's
I

told

me,

is

Sitting

Angdu.

"Sitting, as in SitI

ting Bull?"

asked. "No."

He

spelled
is

it

out: "T-s-e-r-i-n-g."

shook
I

my

head.

We passed a golf course that


and
I

part of the military base.

noticed a

sign near the eighth hole that reads,


sive,"
Bill

"Warning, Mine. Dangerous explogolfing sons

grabbed

for

my camera. My
is if

had

to see this. But

stopped me. "This

a sensitive military installation,"

he explained.

"They'd take your camera

they caught you."

Leh has an ugly

sort of

charm,

its

one main
all

street clogged with buses

and trucks spewing noxious black fumes,


for right-of-way.

competing with

cars

and cows
laid

Women

sit

on curbs,

their fruits

and vegetables

out

beside

them on

a dirty cloth, wilting in the fierce sun.

Off the main drag

run alleyways, warrens crowded with shops selling cheap sweaters, trinkets,
backpacks, bottled water, cigarettes, batteries, alarm clocks.
Bill

wanted

me

to

meet Lama Rigzen,

Ladakhi
Bill felt

monk

working on
excel-

his doctorate

who, because he speaks English,

would be an

lent translator for


side of

my interviews. We walked down a narrow path just outwhere


several

town

to a three-story house,

monks

live.

Lama

Rigzen, dark, curly haired, red-robed, a

man

in his thirties, offered to act as

both guide and emissary


back
alleys to

for

me. Next, back

in

town, we navigated the

the

home of Morup Namgyal, composer and manager of All


Morup,
gentle, soft-spoken, also offered his assis-

India Radio Station.

tance locating and choosing elders to interview.

That evening we
and
I

were invited to Tsering Angdu 's

home to meet
Bill,

the royal family, friends of Angdu's wealthy father. At dusk,


set

Adrienne,

out on foot to a house nestled in the park

had admired the day

THE BOOK OF

B E TA S

ELDERS

before on

my morning

walk.

The house was

large

and seemed

rich

comfol-

pared with the neighboring farmhouses.

We

removed our shoes and

lowed our host to

a large parlor,

where the queen of Ladakh, the queen

mother, and the young king were seated.


turn
(I

We were

presented to each in

had already been instructed how to bow, hands together).

When

got to the king, a twenty-eight-year-old preppy

who resembled my
style.

sons,

he immediately stood and shook

my hand, Western
salt,

Butter tea, a concoction of tea, yak butter,


in lovely china
lips,
first

and soda, was served


raised the

cups with

lids. Bill

stopped

me

as

cup to

my

and showed and

me the Tibetan custom of dipping one's finger in the tea


an offering to the
deities.

flicking drops three times, as

The

tea

is

a staple in Tibet

and Ladakh, drunk morning, noon, and


I

night by both old and young. As soon as

took a few

sips, a

young
I

girl
it

im-

mediately

refilled

my cup, and continued to refill it each time


"One

set

down

on the

table. "It's impolite to refuse," Bill whispered.


is

drinks until

the teapot

empty."

Jigmet, the young king, spoke perfect English with only a trace of an
accent, while his

mother and

his

grandmother

sat silently; clearly

not un-

derstanding a word of our conversation, content to observe in a


that reminded

manner

me

that this

is

a patriarchal society.

We took a shortcut through a field on our way home. Dusk, the grass
silvery

green and soft underfoot

Above us the
the sun's

sky turned

mauve,

few

orangey clouds catching the

last of

rays. Bill told

me

the royal

family were dethroned in 1834, and although they are

now

only figurethis place

heads, they are

still

loved by the people.

could not imagine

without

its

preppy king and shy queen mother.

SANDY JOHNSON

19

SPACEMEN AND CAVE DWELLERS

There was
let

a festival at the monastery in Phyang, a small

hamRin-

twenty miles from Leh, which His Eminence

Lama Duwang

poche, a great master from the Drikung Kagyu lineage, would attend.

Lama Rigzen

told

me

that the old


is

lama

is

man

of extraordinary powers.

His

name

Konchok Norbu; Duwang means Great Yogi

(Meditator).

Lama Duwang came


had been sealed
his only

to India in 1992. Before that,

he

off in a cave,

meditating for fourteen years,

sustenance a cup of water a day and a small amount

of

tsampa (ground and roasted barley).


all

He remained

in his

mountainside

cave

during the Chinese occupation and the Dalai Lama's exodus to

India.

Lama Rigzen would meet me at


introduction, but he'd

the

festival.

He

couldn't promise an

do

his best. Little

Angdu

picked

me up just after a

Lama Duwang Rinpoche

breakfast of eggs, rice, potatoes,

and

dhal.

wondered
I

if it

was the altitude

that

made
I

the yolks of the eggs white, but no one

asked seemed to

know

dragged

my mind away from


who sits
in a

the white-egg-yolk problem and pon-

dered the sort of person

cave for fourteen years.

powers would he emerge with? Did he discover the


suffering the

What kind of same keys to human

Buddha saw? And what were those answers?


told

Lama Rigzen had

me

that after the

first

eleven years, the rin-

poche (precious teacher, or person of refuge) developed severe problems


with his legs and his eyes.

He

got word to his master, Pachung Rinpoche,


care.

and

said

he feared he needed medical

His master sent word back


if

promising to say prayers for him, and added that

Lama Duwang's

prac-

SANDY JOHNSON

tices

were strong enough, his ailments would disappear.


his practice,

Duwang

Rintrue.

poche stayed and continued

and the promise proved

When

he finished

his refuge,

he went to

a place in northern India to

teach. In this place was a stupa with a very old, broken prayer wheel that

no one had been able

to use for years.

As soon

as

Rinpoche

arrived, the

prayer wheel suddenly began to work again, considered a blessing.

The

old

lama

travels all over India,

Lama Rigzen had

explained, never settling in

any one place.

mile out of Stok, we passed another

military base, a re-

minder of the

political fragility of this peaceful country.

Then suddenly we

were in the middle of an immense lunarlike landscape of dry parched earth

and sand dunes that stretched


ering Himalayas
I

as far as the eye in the

could

see.

But

for the
or,

tow-

might have been

middle of the Sahara

for that

matter,

New Mexico. An

occasional cluster of small, brave, purple desert


sky.

flowers defied the sand; overhead was the cloudless, impossibly blue

We turned onto another dirt road that led past a series of chortens to
the monastery. Built in the sixteenth century, the multitiered white-

washed complex
dieval palace.

sits

high on a hilltop of blue slate and resembles a meflights of steep

We

climbed endless

concrete steps to the


re-

main prayer

hall,

where we were greeted by two young monks. Then,

moving our

shoes,

we entered

the darkened

hall, so

dark that for a

mo-

ment

could see only the huge gold Buddha statue glowing

in the

flickering light of votive candles.

At the

far

end

of the hall were

more enorand
sitting,

mous

gold-painted

Buddha

statues behind a glass, standing

surrounded by candles and vessels of yak butter and water.

On another wall hundreds of small statues of deities rested in orderly


rows on wooden shelves. Ancient wall paintings of the wrathful and peace-

2 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

fill

deities

were

in

remarkably good condition, as was the collection of


festival days.

thangkas displayed only on

We

climbed more steps to another smaller chapel with more wall

paintings of the five Dhiyana

Buddhas

representing the
On

five

branches of

buddha-nature

and

statues of the wrathful four-armed Mahakala,


its

one

of the major protectors, in

many

manifestations.

entering each of

the chapels

we removed our shoes and remembered


altars.

to walk clockwise

around the
be used

Offerings of a few rupees were gratefully accepted, to

for the

upkeep of the monastery.


the festival grounds, crowds of villagers in
of tourists with cameras
air
full

Down on
dress

ceremonial
for the

and dozens

and camcorders waited

Duwang Rinpoche. The


one another to stand

shimmered with excitement. Children


and smiled
eagerly.

jostled

in front of cameras,
I

Adults too

were pleased to be photographed.

searched the sea of burgundy-robed

monks

for

Lama Rigzen and

spotted

him

talking

and laughing

in the

mid-

dle of a group of Europeans. Everyone


villagers alike.

seemed

to

know him, monks and

He jumped over a

stone wall to greet me, making

me laugh.
of the

"You

see,

I'm a monkey-monk!"

He

took

me

to the visitors' section,

which had

good view

throne from which His Eminence would observe the dancing.

The

area

was carpeted with a large Tibetan rug and shaded by a yellow-and-red


canopy.
visitors
I

took

my place and sat cross-legged behind a long, low table. The


travelers,

were mainly well-to-do European

but also

number

of

hippies turned up, frozen in time from the sixties, in sandals, amulets at
their necks. Village

women wore elaborate turquoise-studded winged hats,


mid-

peraks, perched precariously atop long rich braids joined at the ends

way down

their backs. Their ankle-length dresses were heavily brocaded

and worn under

a vest of contrasting color, with several strands of

SANDY JOHNSON

turquoise and coral beads.

They

served us butter tea from exquisite cop-

per and brass teapots, and tsampa.


Finally,

horns sounded and His Eminence

Lama Duwang Rinpoche


chanting monks. Their

appeared

in the distance, leading a procession of


visitors

path was lined with villagers and

who

strained for a look. Tourists

darted back and forth with their cameras to find good vantage points.
large ancient-looking

The

man

approached

in a heavy,

wobbly walk,
saffron.

his great

girth enfolded in yards

and yards of burgundy and


a rather

On

his

head
bee-

was what

assumed to be

unusual sort of hat, shaped


hair.

like a

hive and the color of his woolly gray


brilliant

He was

escorted to his throne of

patterned cushions, and sat protected from the

now blazing sun


laid.

by a canopy, under which another beautiful Tibetan carpet had been

The dancing began


dancers

as

soon

as

His Eminence was seated.


beat of a hundred drums.

The

moved

slowly, trancelike, to the

Lama

Rigzen came to get me. "Hurry," he


white
silk scarf.

said,

handing

me

a carefully folded

"He
I

will see
I

you now."
I

"What do

do?"

asked, realizing

did not

know the
near.
I

protocol.

"Take off your hat," he whispered as we drew

Lama Rigzen

prostrated himself to the old lama, then presented me.

bent low, offering

the white katak, which the rinpoche took and placed around

my neck. He
Then he
nod-

smiled a broad, toothless smile and took

my

face in his hands.

motioned
ding, as

me

to

sit

on one of the cushions


explained

at his feet,
I

and

listened,

Lama Rigzen
which

my

mission.

stared, fascinated, at the

long wiry strands of chin whiskers that


at the hat,
I

hung to the middle

of his chest

and

suddenly realized was not a hat at


his

all; it

was

his hair,

wound

loosely

on the top of

head and wrapped with

a leather thong.
hair.

Certain holy men,

Lama

Rigzin later explained, do not cut their

Lama Duwang
archery contest.

agreed to an interview later in the afternoon, after the

24

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Rinpoche

sat,

legs tucked beneath

his robe,

on a bed draped
a gold-

with brightlv patterned fabric, sipping tea. Behind

him hung

painted silk-and-brocade thangka.


himself,
est as
I,

Once
for

again

Lama Rigzen

prostrated
inter-

and the rinpoche motioned


nervously, set

me to sit. He watched with


my
questions in

somewhat

up the tape

recorder and tiny microphone

on the table

in front of

him.

had written out


I

my

spiral

notebook. Smiling at him, pen in hand,

prepared to begin the interview.

But the rinpoche, through

Lama

Rigzen, took the lead, asking

me

where

come

from.

'America."
"I

heard an American traveled to the moon.


I

Is

that true?"
sur-

"Yes."

was thinking that the rinpoche must have been quite

prised to learn that a

man had been

to the

moon and

back while he was

sealed inside a cave in Tibet.

"What was
interrupted me.

his

name?"
I

"Neil Armstrong,"

said,

amused.

started to ask

my

question.

He

"What

does

it

look like?"

"The moon?"
"Yes."
I

pointed out the window to the moonscape outside. "Like that."

"Ooh."

He nodded

his head.

'And

how big is

it?"
is

Was

really

having this conversation?


I

How big
tell

the

moon?

"Well,

not as big as the Earth,"

said,

hoping that would

do.

"You Americans are very powerful. They


in

me

your president was

China

recently."

"Yes."

There had been

summit meeting

earlier that spring in

China.

SANDY JOHNSON

2 5

"And

will

your president do something to help us get our country

back from the Chinese?"


I

had heard that the

issue of

human rights had come up at the meetholy

ing but was shelved, lost in the conversations concerning trade agree-

ments. Hard put to


for

try to explain that to a

man and
I

feeling

ashamed

my country,
I

told

him

didn't

know but

that

sincerely

hoped some-

thing would be done.


got halfway through

my

first

question

when

the rinpoche, peering

at

me
I

from under

grizzly eyebrows, asked,

"What do you understand


been reading,
love.

about the philosophy of Buddhism?"


looked at him. Remembering what
it is

I'd

answered,
living a

"I

understand that
life,

based on compassion and


a

And on
a

good

so

one can have

good death and be born again into


identify love?"

good

life."

'And

how do you

Oh no, a trick question.


and
treat
all

'A feeling from the heart for

all

other people

animals and birds and insects.

And

a desire to protect

them and

them with kindness and compassion."


"Very right," he said, nodding his head.

"Whom

did you learn this

love

and compassion from?"


Feeling a sense of confidence that
I

was getting the answers

right,

began to

tell

him about

the Native Americans in our country

who

share a

similar philosophy,
his granddaughter.

and about the holy

man who taught me and made me

"So they are not Buddhist?"


"No, they are not Buddhist."
His eyes were so penetrating,
I

felt as if

was beginning to fade under

the force of his gaze, like a photograph

left

out in the sun.

"How do you
"Compassion

define compassion?"
is

caring for

all

other people without judging them,

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

and accepting them unconditionally,"


these were only words.

answered miserably, knowing

"Okay

if

you know very


this?"

clearly love

and compassion, what more do

vou need to add to

"Wisdom,

suppose."
I

He saw into the

very depths of

my ignorance.
tell

"So, whatever

want to say to you about wisdom and compassion


I

and

love, this
I

you already know. So

have nothing more to


silently

you."

looked to

Lama

Rigzen,
test

who sat

watching me.

No clue from
moment

him.

had passed the

but flunked the interview. The rinpoche's eyes


I

were closed, but his

lips

were moving, reciting mantras. After a

began to gather

my things.
you want to know?" he asked
just as
I

"What
door.

else did

reached the

Words came tumbling


derstand
tion.

out, ringing with frustration. "I


I

need to un-

how

to get to that."
this
I

was surprised by the intensity of

my

reac-

What

was
did

sudden leap from objective

journalist to spiritual
"I

seeker?

How

go from interviewer to subject?

think

understand
I

these concepts, but I'm not clear

how to take

the steps to get there.

know how to become compassionate and

loving and wise


sit

don't

He
I

raised his

hand

to silence

me. "Then

down."

took

my

place

on the cushion on the


But
in his eyes,

floor

and looked up
softly

at

him,
I

embarrassed by

my outburst.

which rested

on me,

thought

saw the

tiniest flicker of

amusement.
wheel of life. So what
is

"Now we are
the

in samsara, in this world, in this

main cause

of rebirth in this wheel of life?"

He was

not finished with

me after all.
"To learn what we didn't learn
"Yes. In this
life,

in the last life?"


this
is

sometimes we find happiness, and


in previous lives,

a result of

the positive things

we have done

when we have done very

SANDY JOHNSON

good things

in

another

life. If

we have unhappiness

in this life,

it is

the

re-

sult of negative things


fore.

bad deeds, bad thoughts

that we've

done be-

"The main cause


attachment.

of being born into this wheel of

life is

desire

and

We must avert all the desire and attachment. With attachis

my mother; This is my father; These are my children; This is my property; This is my country; This is " he pointed to the
ment, we think: This

tape recorder

"my recording machine.


I.

All of this

comes from attachto analyze this


I,

ment. Me, my,

This

is

everywhere. But

when we go

when you remove, one by


arms

one, our outer body

the

hair,

the eyes, the

do any
is

of these contain the I? No.

You analyze each part and find

there

only emptiness."

For

some reason
is

chose that

moment

to take his picture.

"What

that?" he asked sharply


is

"This? This

my

camera,"

answered, wondering

if I

should have

asked his permission

first.

The rinpoche threw


one to the

his

head back and laughed,

huge rumbling
I

laugh that shook his entire body.


other, bewildered.

Lama Rigzen

joined

in.

looked from

Rinpoche pointed to the camera again,


fit

about to say something, but was overcome with another


Tears streamed from his eyes.
robe, then

of laughter.

He dabbed

at

them with

a corner of his

blew

his nose.

With each wave

of laughter,

Lama Rigzen was


explained.

equally stricken, and the two began anew. Finally

Lama Rigzen
your camera."

"Rinpoche
I

is

laughing because you called


blankly.

it

looked at

him
is

"Just as

he

speaking about attachments.


set in.
is

I,

me, my. Don't you see?"

And

a fresh

round of laughter
is

"Because he
samsara.

saying that attachment

the main cause of rebirth in


love

He

says

we may

think that

we know about compassion and

2 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

and

desire

and attachment, but

this

is

not enough,

it

has to

become

part

of our lives
pirically.

on

a practical level.

We know everything from books, not emIt

There

are so

many

books.
just

has

all

been written about. These


to illustrate that at the per-

things have to be practiced.


fect

You

happened

moment."

The rinpoche had

regained his composure. "So according to Bud-

dhism," he explained, "we don't just accept that we


love

know compassion and

and not

act

on

it.

We

must

activate

all

the compassion and love in


love in the activity of

our minds.

And how can we know compassion and


lot of

our minds? Say another person has a


of his problems
I

problems.
I

We must think:
will give

All

will take;

have some happiness, so

my happithis.

ness to him;

can take his problems to myself.'

We must

think like

This

is

the application for our mind.


is

"Buddhism

difficult;

it is

a very

deep philosophy. But


will get
it.

if

people

strive to perfect their practice,

then they

It is

very useful not


all

just for us,

but for
it is

all

human

beings.

It will

bring benefit for

sentient

beings, but

very difficult to uphold this compassion and this love."

Moments
said to
I

passed in silence. Rinpoche addressed


to

Lama

Rigzen,

who

me, "Rinpoche wants

know what you're

thinking about so hard."

knew I was
I

receiving a teaching of greater


it

magnitude than
for

could
I

comprehend;

found

dizzying. "I

might wish

enlightenment, but

wonder

if I

would have the courage."


said:

The rinpoche

"When
you put
this

you see

a person

who

is,

as

you

say,

enlightened, and you


very important that
It is

wish you would be able to attain these qualities,

it is

wish into action. Everything

is

practice.

not enough just


on.
It will

to think or to wish,
very, very difficult.

we must put

it

into practice from


arise in

now

get

Many obstacles

our minds.

When we

run into

SANDY JOHNSON

<)

these obstacles,

we begin
more

more
this

difficulties,

We think obstacles; Why should


to doubt.

to ourselves: I'm having


I

do

this?;

Should

leave

path and find another? So

many doubts and difficulties come


we

into our

mind.
'At that time,

we must

forget everything that

think

is

true in sam-

sara, in this cyclic existence

things

like,

my country, my this or that. We


dharma. Then you
will

must

forget clinging.

And

just practice the

begin to

achieve something."
"I

guess

my biggest obstacle
I

is

fear,"

said.

"Do you know what

those fears are?"


have, of being sick, of being poor, of being

"Fear of giving up what


alone."

"So what you are actually asking

is,

How can someone who is just beown mind? Regarding the


in life

ginning on the path remove such fears from her


fears

and the problems that we encounter

and who doesn't enit.

counter those, they are part of living

we need

to develop a strong renun-

ciation for the ordinary cycle of existence as

we experience

The word
mind
that

renunciation here means,

literally,

a certainty that arises in your


free of that cycle.

you want to be, and

will

become,

So

it is

not renuncia-

tion in a pessimistic sense, so

much

as recognizing the
to,

shortcomings of

where we are and the certainty that we want


be freed or released from
that. That's

and

will, rise

beyond

that,

what

mean by

renunciation."

He

leaned forward, looked at

me

with piercing eyes, and waited for


I

an indication from

me

that

was following him.


for

realized that

Lama

Rigzen was trying very hard to translate word

word what the rinpoche


I

was saying, without any interpretation of his own.


continued.
"Further,

nodded, and Rinpoche

we must turn our backs on our grasping


on the things of
cyclic existence,

or fixation

on

cyclic existence,

and on our ordinarv

JO

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

state of being.

When
is

fears

and problems

arise,

the worst, the most probis

lematic thing
is

we do

to
its

become attached
power:

to the fear that

arising.

This

what

gives clinging
fear,

We have this sense that something really


we
invest the existence of events,

there causes us
things,

causes us a problem;
solidity.

and emotions with


our

And

because we cling to that notion,


or very averse to

we

fuel

own love-hatred of being either very attached

something.

We are constantly pushed or pulled.


this grasping
is

"Overcoming

not something that

is

easy for beginlevel,


it

ning practitioners. For someone


is

who has

reached a very advanced

more

straightforward, but

still it

often requires years or even eons of


all

practice to get to the point

where they stand above


it is

of that. For the avgrasping,

erage unenlightened being,

very difficult to
rise to fear

move beyond

the fundamental factor that gives


place."

and problems

in the first

This below-average, very unenlightened being wondered what kind


of practice

he was talking about. Lifetimes? Eons?


practice, then,
It is
it is

"Without such extensive


term to deal with
fear in

difficult in the short

any effective way.

not something that you're


begin by contemplating

going to be able to figure out immediately.


this cycle of ordinary existence that

We

we

are caught in at this point.

We dewe
are

velop a sense of disenchantment, even disgust, a kind of revulsion at cyclic


existence, that
it

no longer
it,

fascinates us, that

we have

a certainty

going to be released from

that

we have

the intention of being liberated

from

this,

that

we view
fallen/'

this cycle of existence as

we would

a fiery pit into

which we have
I

felt

turned upside down. Part of

strangely, there

was another part of

me did not understand a word; yet, me that caught a glimpse now and
on the wing
of a bird as
it

then, like the quick reflection of the sun


off.

soars

SANDY JOHNSON

"

"It is useful to

regard cyclic existence as this fiery

pit, a

stinking
at

swamp,
all

as a land inhabited

by cannibal demons who are threatening us


is

sides.
is

As long

as

we

think that samsara


is

nice, samsara

is

sweet, sam-

sara

delicious, samsara

fine,

we

are not going to


is

be released.

And

as
it-

long as
self,

we have
will

the attitude that samsara


it.

sufficient or satisfactory in

we

never be liberated from

We have

to have that dissatisfac-

tion

and disenchantment.
'Are

you saying

it is life is

we want

to be liberated from?

thought Bud-

dhists believe

human life

precious."

He
his face

turned to the window. Sunlight etched the myriad lines deeper in

and caught the pewter of


principal

his hair.

"The

means by which we put our renunciation and


is

disen-

chantment with

cyclic existence into practice

to meditate

on impermais

nence, again and again, until our awareness of impermanence


in us, so that

ingrained

we

are, as a

matter of course, aware of impermanence in


is

meditation, regarding everything that has gone before, everything that

happening now, from the point of view of how everything

is

subject to im-

permanence and change.


'Another important factor
attitude of lovingkindness
is

to cultivate a 'noble attitude,' that

is,

an
is

and compassion toward

others. Again, this

something that
to develop love

for

you

as a beginner will not

come

easy You won't be able

and compassion

just off the bat, so to speak, just


it,

because

you want

to.

But you need to cultivate

and

this

comes about through


the welfare of oth-

developing an altruistic approach, one of


ers into
I

really taking

account."
if

was not sure

he had answered
occurred to
I

my question, but he was already on


that perhaps this master was giving
I

to another subject.

It

me

me

the information

needed rather than the information

thought

wanted.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"You begin by appreciating that there

is

not any being that has not


all

been vour mother or father


from beginningless time,

in

some

lifetime, that

beings are alike


life-

in the cycle of existence,

through countless

times. This applies to beings throughout the six classes or six states of

conditioned existence, not just humans, but

all

of these beings

all

of

us^have been one

another's parents.
this,

"Understanding

that there
is

is

no

distinction that
It

we can make
to

between one being or another,


have
this

very valuable.

would benefit you

understanding.
are

"While there

more

abstract, elaborate techniques or processes of


just try to focus

contemplation that traditionally are explained, for now,

on love and compassion and not become too caught up


First,

in the details.

we

appreciate what our parents in this lifetime have done for us, and

contemplate the basic kindness that we have received from them. Then

we extend

that kindness to

all

beings. Thus,

it is

through an understandlife

ing of the role that our parents have played in this

that

we

gain an un-

derstanding of our connection to other beings/'

He closed his eyes and began moving his lips. After several moments
he looked
I

at

me, smiled, and

said,

"That's
for.

it."

got

more than I had bargained

Renunciation, the nonexistence

of the

self,

eons of practice, the idea of every being having once been our
.

parents

Are bad parents anathema to Tibetans?

On

the way back

to Stok,

looked out the window at the lunar

landscape and suddenly wondered:

The

old lama

showed no

interest in
I

how an American

got to the

moon. Was

it

because he already knows?

re-

membered
the

reading somewhere that in Shambala they've been going to

moon

for twelve

hundred

years.

SANDY JOHNSON

33

THE MOUNTAIN

woke the next morning,


and
felt raw,
I

quaking with cold.


it,

tugged

at the

thin blanket
throat

tried to curl myself into

but

could not get warm.

My

and

my head throbbed. The previous night's intense dream

lingered.

had been reading by candlelight


ten than not

and my
a

power

in

Stok

is

out more ofI

eyes

had soon

tired.

But then

lay-

awake,

my mind

maelstrom, swirling with questions that


questions.

only led to
I

more imponderable

kept seeing the image of the old lama sitting cross-

legged, laughing, rocking back

and forth on

his stack of

cushions

like a giant red

buoy

in a

stormv

sea.

His laughter followed

me

into a dream, except that in the

"Where

is

your

arms; "There?"

me he was laughing at. T?" he taunted, pointing to mv head. "There?" my my feet. "Not there." His laughter echoed, filling my
dream
it

was

head with

a terrible roar.

felt

m\ self

recede and grow smaller as his face,

disembodied now, grew larger. The toothless mouth widened, came closer

and

closer, as

if

to devour

me.

knew

it

would be

useless to scream; there

was no one to hear me. Drenched with perspiration,


like

my skin burned cold,


realized

dry
It

ice.

was the kind of dream

have

if I

am

feverish.

did have

a flu of a

some

sort.

When Kansa, the cook, knocked at the door,


Bill

asked for
Jai,

thermos of hot water and more blankets. Neither Kansa nor

the

houseboy, spoke more than kitchen English.


left for

and Adrienne Kite had

Khatmandu;

was alone
to call

in a hotel,

twenty miles from town, with

no phone
I

and no one
in

if I

had one.
thermometer and took
a terrible sleep,
play,

fumbled

my
I

toilet kit for a

my temperaout.

ture: It read 103.

drifted in

and out of

dreaming scenes

from

my life.

People appeared, characters in a

and spoke

When

had married my second husband,


four.

Bill,

his daughters

were ten, eight, and

We spent weekends, holidays, and summers with


close.

them, and became extremely


than
I,

As

Bill

was more than a decade older


as stepdaughters.

the

girls

were younger
I

sisters as

much

Wendy,
a

the eldest, to

whom
made

was "Wick"

(for

Wicked Stepmother), became


in

Buddhist and
California.

her

home

at

Green Gulch Zen Center

northern

Two

years before

my

trip to India, Bill,

who was now my second

exI

husband, had a heart attack and a bypass operation. Then,


left for India,

just before

my sons told me their father was ending a marriage that had


first.
I

been troubled from the

had never

fully forgiven

myself for breaking

up the

family; worse,

had gone on to make two more hasty marriages that

mystified friends and distressed


Still, Bill

my parents.
close through those years

and I had remained

and somehow

managed

to sustain an outline, albeit blurred, of a family.

We had develJ 5

SANDY JOHNSON

oped
ters,

a philosophy, values, soil in

which to grow our sons and


a

his

daugh-

which lasted
insisted

until

he married

woman who

resented the children

and

on shutting them out, and communication between us

ended.

Wendy appeared onstage in my dream and,


accused me:
"It's

in

an un-buddhalike way,

because of you that

Dad

is

stuck in an awful marriage


at-

that never should have been.


tack.

And

it's

because of you he had the heart

You broke
I

his heart,

you know.
I

Why? Why did you have to do

it?"
I

searched for an answer, but


I

could not account for the person

was

then.
Gerry,

wanted

to

tell

her that, but she disappeared, and

my closest friend,
in everyone's

whose young life was stolen by cancer years


at

ago, stood in her place.

She shook her head


lives

me. "You can't keep wreaking havoc


cost,

you touch. Things


I

you know. Actions

cost."
I

woke from

this

dream sobbing,

my heart pounding.
I

turned to look

at the

window. The mountain was so near


it. I

could almost reach out and


in the light

touch

stared until shapes


I

began to form
I

and shadows and

became
six

faces.

saw Pete Catches,

months

before, leaving

whom loved and revered. He had died me desolate. saw his face, with its arched nose
I

and sweeping forehead,

distinctly carved in the

mountain.

could make

out the hollows underneath the cheekbones, and the crevices around the

mouth. Over and over


I

called his

name, then

finally

drifted off again.


I

saw

my

mother. She looked at

me
I

with the same expression


just given the eulogy.

re-

membered from my
the dais where
at
I

brother's funeral.
I

had

From

had stood,

saw her

sitting there in the front row, looking

me

with angry blue eyes that told


I

me

she had lost the wrong child.

confronted her now; turned from

asked her

if

that were true.

Without answering, she

me and walked away.


my dreams.
Awake,
I

Scenes and faces continued to parade through

saw that the faces were

still

there in the mountain, changing with the

36

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

shifting

shadows

as daylight

faded to dusk. Friends


of rash selfishness.
If
I

lost, friends

dead,

friends betrayed

in

moments
I

had descended into one

of the Buddhist hells

had read about.


I

this

was not

my death, only how

my death will be,

then

prayed

it

would be quickly finished with me.

The fever
the third night,
I

and

its

demons raged on

for

two more

days.
I

Then, on

suddenly remembered the antibiotics


earlier,

had brought.
there in

Why hadn't
my case?
til
I

thought of them

or of the sleeping

pills right

took

them and

fell

into a heavy; dreamless sleep that lasted unI

late the

next morning. Then, cautiously,


it

stood up, went to the winbright and innocent,


it:

dow, and opened

wide.

The mountain shone

dazzling in the morning sun. At the peak, snowy clouds encircled

white

silk

offering scarf.

SANDY JOHNSON

3 J

LIFE OF

LUXURY

It

was only two


I

days since

my demons

had come to

visit.

My

recovery was quick after


for the

had taken the

antibiotics.

Too

quick,
flu.

thought,

medication to have had an effect on the supposed


illness I'd

was con-

vinced that whatever


tion,

had was

at least partly psychic, a purifica-

an ego cleansing.

My friend
up
early to

Betty was due to arrive that morning;


at the airport. Tsering
I

got

meet her

Angdu

material-

ized again
arrival

and wanted to come along.


relief,

anticipated Betty's
I

with

realizing

how

very alone

had been

feel-

ing.

had thought I would approach Buddhism

as a journalist, with a jour-

nalist's objectivity; instead

my whole system of thinking was under attack,


it.

and

was eager to

talk

about

The

flight

was of course delayed, but when

it

finally arrived,

Betty

got off the plane in great good

humor and we

greeted each other like

schoolgirls.

Hardy soul that she


sat in

is,

she needed only a short

rest

and time to

unpack.
I

Then we

my room

and had

a beer

and

talked.
self

recalled

what Lobsang Lhalungpa had

said

about the

before

left

Santa Fe:

"We
that

begin life with

a strong sense of selfishness, a selfishness


is

comes from ignorance. Ignorance

not being able to understand the


reality.

true nature of one's


this central

own life,

one's

own mind,

Therefore,

we

create

kind of entity called


self
is

self.
it

"This central

so very precious to each person that


is

becomes
and con-

the center of one's world. 'Everything else

different

from

me

nected to me. Therefore

which improves
humanity'

must exist. am concerned only with that my security, my well-being, to the exclusion of the rest of
I

"The

answer, then,

is

very clear at that point:

Work

with your

own

inner conditionings. Find out where you went wrong. You might not even

remember

so clearly.

But

still

you carry the impact of your ignorance, and


in a distorted

you make a lot of mistakes. You perceive things


your fundamental notion
at
is

way because
You can look

that you are an exclusive entity.

connection in

many
is

different ways: physically, mentally, spiritually, ena very strong interconnection.

vironmentally. There

Recognize that the


say,

way we look
I

at

it,

things

seem

to be very real;

we

look and

Okay, what
is

see

is real.

But
it's

is it

really real,

what you see?

What

you see over there

only image;

real for

you, for your mind. But

we lose

sight of the true na-

ture of things. to be, as

We don't look at things as they are, but as we perceive them


to be.

we assume them

Buddha

said, let's clear this root of igno-

rance and tackle the problem of selfishness.

Open up
you'll

your

own

closed

world and understand the connection.

Then

begin to understand

why we

are interconnected, this

whole universe.

We are part of that great

SANDY JOHNSON

39

thing.

So we don't need to

feel totally isolated;

we

don't need to feel an-

tagonized.
I

Then we begin

to accept our personal responsibility.

Whatever

do, say, think, has an impact

not only on my own


children,

life,

but on

my envi-

ronment,

my

family,

my wife, my

my

friends,

my

society, every-

body who
this

comes into contact with me. Having a certain responsibility to

understanding makes a person


life;

much more
is

sensible.

And

that

is

the

beginning of a responsible

that

what Buddhism teaches."


really is?

But
does that

how

does one go about finding out what one


exactly? "Find out
in the

What

mean

where you went wrong," Lobsang had


the couch doing? 'And
I?"

said. Isn't that

what we
I

West spend years on

defining our ego,"

said to Betty. "If I'm not

my 'self,' what am
ever.

Betty and

talked long into the night


I

on the pros and cons

of the

couch versus the cushion.

was more confused than

had been told about

crone

who lives

in a cavelike dwelling at

the bottom of the mountain in a medieval village a day's drive from Leh.
Betty wanted to see something of the country; and
I,

with
is

all

the talk

about renunciation, was drawn to see


mother's age,
could
see.
I

how this woman, who


an oracle,

exactly
I

my

lives.

In this

same

village lived

whom hoped we

hadn't thought about the concept of an oracle existing since

the days I'd read about


It

them

in

Greek mythology.
trail

was a harrowing drive on an upaved razorback


falls

that climbs to

13,000 feet and

away to a gorge 3,000


I

feet below.
live to see
it.

The

next day was

my birthday.
and barley

Never mind,

thought,

I'll

not

But suddenly the

river valley

broadened and miles of golden wheat

fields stretched

before us.

Then

the

tiny,

remote, eleventh-cen-

tury village of

Wanla appeared, unchanged bv

time.

We climbed down

mountain, slipping and sliding


dren,

to the intense delight of the local chil-

who bv then had decided

to join us.

We

seemed

to have collected

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

curious villagers as well,


low,

who

followed us to Skalzang Dolma's.

We

bent

almost crouching, to enter the doorway.

The

onlv source of illuminaof sorts through

tion

came from an opening

in the wall, a

window

which

shafts of afternoon light cast a

dusky glow

A small fire burned in the crude

day oven.

A series of platforms and shelves fashioned from stone held her


old

pots and utensils.

The

woman

sat

on her knees on the bare earthen

floor

and

looked curiously at us, bewildered by the sudden attention. She had seen

few Westerners

in her life,

and

certainly

had never had

a conversation

with one. Villagers and children were crowded in as well.


eras

With

the cam-

and tape recorder and microphone


a small event.
lit
I

had

set

on the

floor next to her,


life.

we caused

asked her

if

she would talk to us about her

Dolma's eves
hands.

up; she drew

up her knee and leaned on her clasped

"I

was born

into a family

whose house name was Gyagarpa.

My
an-

father arranged a marriage for

both

my

sister
.

and
is

me

to a

man from
I

other house.
pily

He was

our mag-pa [husband]


I

He

dead now.

lived hap-

with the mag-pa.

had no children with him, but


is

my

sister did.

She

had two sons and one daughter. The son


ried into a family with the
ter

a sculptor; the daughter

mar-

house name of Solpan-Pa-Wanla. Both

my sis-

and

worked very hard.

We grazed our cattle and collected fodder for


had
to

winter,
"I

and sometimes we

also

work

in other houses.

had

a verv difficult childhood.


for

We

had no

rice,

wheat,
I

flour, or

sugar.

used to go begging

mv meal
exchange

of the

day Sometimes

worked

in

the houses of

my

relatives in

for food. In

olden days, children

had

to labor to earn their

own

livelihood.

"A lot of changes have taken place in

my
also

village.

Even the

sky has

changed.

It is

more cloudy now. And people

have changed. Back then,

SANDY JOHNSON

people showed more concern for one another; they were more religious-

minded and performed more


offerings of a

religious deeds.

too fasted often and

made

complete

set of

my

clothing to the monastery and, on two


to
fill

occasions, a set of a

hundred butter lamps and butter

the silver chal-

ice before the statue of


I

Chenrezig [the patron saint or Buddha of Tibet]


to build stupas, or statues of gold
all

didn't have the

good fortune
but
I

and

silver

for the temples,

used to invite

the people of

Wanla

to gatherings,
I

where

served chang [Tibetan beer] to everyone. In

used to wear
still

my younger days, my perak and my fleece hat, and my fur apron on my back.
I

have

my perak with three rows of turquoise, which


I

wear when

go to

the gonpa [temple] to see a lama.

"When I was able-bodied, went on many pilgrimages.


liness the Dalai

saw His Ho-

Lama

three times in Ladakh,


to hold

and

saw the Karmapa Rinit

poche once.
off his head.

remember he had
farthest
I

on
is

to his hat so that

wouldn't

fly

Now the
live

can go
I

to

Lamayura Gonpa."

"Do you
manage.
"I

here alone?"

asked, wondering

how she

could possibly

am eighty-five years old, and


and nephews
I

can

still

do

all

my chores myself, exstay


is

cept during Losar

[New Year] and the winter months. Then I go and


in the family house,

with
here.
I

my nieces
But

which
I

quite far from

my own small house. water my fields, fetch my own water, and cook with the firewood my nieces and nephews bring me. They also bring me barley flour, tea, butter, and chang. My eyein spring

return here to

sight has

become weak now,

so

can't always recognize people."

We were curious to know


"I

if

she remembered any folk stories or leg-

ends that might have been handed used to sing


all

down from

her elders.
all

the different traditional songs and do

the folk
I

dances. There are

many

songs and love stories, but at this advanced age


I

cannot remember

many of them. would spend whole

nights singing and

4 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

>:-

Skal^ang Dolma

telling stories.
at learning. In

They

say

was

like a parrot in

my younger days, very quick


we never even
and no
ra-

those days

we

did not have a schoolhouse,

heard of such a thing as a school. There were no shops,


tion depot. People
grains."

either,

had

to grind their

own

flour

from dried fermented

"Don't you ever get


thinking

lonely, living here

without your family?"

asked,

my country. "I don't feel lonely. spend most of my time saying, 'Om mani padme hum,' and another short prayer to Chenrezig. As get old, get my various lives mixed up and recite only the prayers know by heart. My bed
how dependent
the elderly are in
I I I I

is

near a window. Before


all

go to sleep

prostrate to the

Buddha and pray

that
like

my wrong actions

from the past be pardoned.

On auspicious days
I

the tenth, fifteenth, and the thirtieth of each month,

offer a

hun-

SANDY JOHNSON

4 3

dred butter lamps.

Then

say

all

the mantras

know, and the prayer of


to recite

refuge to the Buddha, the

Dharma, and the Sangha. These I used

with the

monks

as a part of the fasting ritual.

My fingers

developed sores

from counting the beads on

my mala.
in their

"I hear that people in the outside world live comfortable lives with

tables

and

chairs

and carpets
rice

homes, and have everything needed


that.
I

to

be happy

sugar and
I

and
I

all

have only tsampa and tukpa

[soup] to eat, but

am happy;
I

have no teeth in
I

my mouth

anyway.

see

you

in

your fine clothes, and

piness in the outside world.

am in rags. Yet hear there is much unhapCan you tell me why that is?"
"Do you have some thoughts about why
and
your furniture and
for prayer.

"No,
that
is

can't,"

admitted.

so?"
fine clothes
all

She shrugged. "Maybe your


riches take

up too much
riches

of your time

and leave you no time

Maybe your
But
I

have taken more away from you than they have given.
these things.
."
.

don't

know about

She yawned, bringing the con-

versation to a close.

As we got
window

u p to leave,

gave her a folded-up hundred-rupee note


at.

(about four dollars), which she opened and stared


to

She took

it

to the

make

sure,

then smiled happily.


"I will

"Wait," she said excitedly,

show you!" She disappeared

into a

black opening in the wall, where she sleeps, and


headdress, with
shawl.
its

came out earning her

seven rows of turquoise, and her moth-eaten goat-skin

We

followed her outside, and she donned


like a girl.

them

for us, swirling

around and around

Then

she took a bow.

It
tain,
I

was nearly

dark.

As we made the climb back up the moun-

realized

what I had

just seen

had less

to

do with

a life frozen in

time

4 4

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

than

it

did with a

life

lived according to a tradition fervently believed in.

Have our

riches indeed taken

more from us than they have given?

strug-

gled to find

my

footing, grabbing for

bush branches along the unmarked

path,

and
. .

thought about the busy-ness of

my own

"rich" years a

little

more.

Lama Rigzen and


reached out to help
us.

Little

Angdu were

ahead; they stopped to wait and

No,

doubt

ever

would have found the time


state oracle,
I

to climb a

mountain

to

see the oracle of

Wanla; nor the


state,

who

advises the Dalai


later in

Lama

on important matters of
These

whom
it

would see

Dharamsala.

local spirit protectors,

was explained,

are part of a tradition

that goes back thirteen

hundred

years, to the

time of Padmasambhava.
the townspeople than

They
with

are

more concerned with the personal

lives of

politics.

SANDY JOHNSON

4 5

THE ORACLE O F WA NLA

It
acle.

was d u s k

in

Wanla when we were taken


inner

to the house of the or-

We were led to an

room

lit

by

oil

lamps.

Once

again children

and adults crowded

in to watch.

The

oracle sat against the wall

on

bench

that was covered with a rug.

He greeted

us shyly.
to

Lama Rigzen explained


about himself?

him

that

we had come from

America and had never met an

oracle.

Would he

tell

us

"During the period


Ladakh
isters.

of

King Senge Namgyal of

[late

sixteenth century] there were seventeen very powerful min,

Lama Lhompo was one


and
his

of them.
special,

He was

the reincarnation of

some

great hero,

power was

maybe magic.
to

"One day Lama Lhompo came from Leh

Wanla on

foot.

When

he died, many lamas and other oracles said that he couldn't get into

heaven or
his spirit

hell,

but had to stay in a kind of in-between


village.

state,

the bardo. So

wandered the

me with his power to tell our present, past, future, everything. This spirit speaks through me to tend
"Seven years ago

he began to speak through

the people of Wanla, even the people of Ladakh,


acles.

who benefit from


if

the or-

When

they have problems in their

lives,

or

they have to

make

decision, they

come

to the oracle.
in their lives.
spirit

The

spirit also gives

them

advice about
heal.

how

to have success

But he does not have the power to


to

"The

first

time the

came

me,

felt

very uncomfortable in

my body. There came a sound, like a knocking at the door, and I was afraid. 'Who is that coming?' asked, and became very suspicious. The people in the village took me to Leh to talk to some lamas. They advised me to do certain things, make offerings to the monastery,

my mind

and

and

pray.

did as the lamas advised. There was a seven-day period, like a

baptism.

"The lamas made

a special puja [prayer ritual]

and invited the

Lhompo to speak. A lama asked him,


answered,
'I

Are you the Lhompo?'

And the spirit


I

am

the

Lhompo,
is

living in this area right

now/

never

re-

member

anything that

said afterward.

But sometimes there are sharp

pains, very strong.


"Actually, before that, eight or nine years ago, the

head lama of
his horse

Lamayuru came

to this village

and saw Lhompo get down from

and give some directions to the people of Wanla."

We
nodded.

asked

if

we could speak with the

spirit of

the oracle.

The man

A woman brought a thermos of butter tea and set it on the table


him.

in front of

He drank

rapidly, draining the

cup three times

as the

woman

refilled

it.

The room was

quiet; the villagers waited silently, re-

spectfully.

After a time his eyes closed. His head twitched sideways, then the

SANDY JOHNSON

4 J

whole upper half of

his

body jerked spasmodically. Like an


fell

epileptic in the

throes of a seizure, his head

forward, then was tossed backward.


visible.

He

opened
he

his eyes,

but only the whites were


tea. It

With trembling hands

lifted his

cup and gulped more

dribbled

down

his chin

and onto

his shirt.

Suddenly he shouted, "Heh!"


different

startling us.

Then

in a gruff voice quite

from

his

own, commanded, "Stand up!"


I

We rose to our feet.


seriously.

looked at Betty.

We both were taking this very


And you
will

"You," he said, pointing to me, eyes rolled back behind fluttering

eyelids.

"You must study very hard. Heh!

need to consult
Heh!

scholars to teach

you what you must know

for this work. in

And

this

work

will

teach you

how to live your own life


first

peace and liberation."

He

paused a moment. "But


work."

you must find your teacher

for

your true

The room was


true work?

so

still I

could hear the quick beat of

my
I

heart.

My

When I'd had my brush with mortality, I'd decided


would be
of

would deI

vote
that?

my

writing to books that

some

benefit.

Wasn't

doing

'And what

is

that,
is

can you
to

tell

me?"
as enlightened as

"Your true work


time. But to
teacher."

become
first

you can

in this lifewill

do that you must

know yourself.

For that you

need

Seemed
being led to?
"Your
place."

had been hearing

this at every turn.

Was

this

what

was

life is

going to change again. You are going to

move

to another

Oh,

no.

"Near a great ocean."

4 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

The Oracle of Wanla

looked at Betty and grimaced. California? I'm afraid of earthquakes.


I

"You ask him something,"

whispered.
rift

Betty tried to explain the


family,

between the various members of her

which Lama Rigzen had

difficulty translating. Finally, she asked

simply, "Will-my-broken-family-be-mended?"

The

oracle answered: "Let

them

all

go."

That night we

spread our sleeping bags on the floor of a hut at

the edge of the pasture where

we had seen the

yaks.

Nearby

in

another

hut, the children of the village slept, a Tibetan version of a kibbutz.

Lama

SANDY JOHNSON

4 9

Rigzen and

Little

Angdu brought us
we
set

a pot of soup, a

donation from one of

the houses, which


giggled

on
all

a cot, a makeshift dining table.


at

The

children

and giggled

until

once they wound down and


nearly
full,

fell

asleep.

Later,

when
I

the

moon was

flooding the pastures with a


I

silvery light,

stood looking at this dreamlike place


oracle's predictions.
fast like

had come

to.

thought about the

Are our

lives already written

somewhere;

are

we held

marionettes by the strings of destiny?

Was

always going to be standing here underneath this

moon on my
the people of

birthday eve, while at this very

moment the

sun shines on

all

my own world?
I

wanted

to

make

a birthday

wish on the near-full moon.

used to
I

wish for health, happiness, and the way to support myself doing what
loved best, but

now I no longer knew what

to wish

for.

50

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

TIBET

IN

INDIA

Today Betty and


flight to Delhi.

would brave

'Air

Chance'' once more for a


I

She had to get back to the

States;

would

hire a car
I

and

driver for an eleven-hour trip

from Delhi to Dharamsala, where


Dalai Lama.
I

would

meet lamas and wait

for

my audience with the


I

had written
before, as

to His Holiness's private offices

some months

soon as

knew

would be in India, to request a meeting.

We arrived early, as instructed, for security checks, and


waited for our airplane to appear. Suddenly there was a

commotion

at the entrance.

An

entourage of red-robed

monks came bustling through the terminal

doors; at the center was


to

Lama
the

Duwang Rinpoche, my laughing lama who had wanted

know what

moon looked like.


"That looks
viewed him?"
like

someone important," Betty

said.

"Have you

inter-

Dharamsala,
Pradesh,
is

in

northern India,

in the state of

Himachal
It is

nestled in the Dhauladar Range of the lower Himalayas.

the seat of the government-in-exile and the present the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
viceroys,
it

home of His

Holiness
British

hill resort

from the days of the

was to

this place in the

Kangra

valley that the Dalai

Lama and

ten thousand of his followers settled in 1960 following the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

We were
to stop so
I

driving along a ridge that leads to Dharamsala,


I

when we

passed a colony of gray monkeys at the side of the road.

asked the driver

could take a picture, and

rolled

down my window. The monI

keys turned to stare with bold, curious expressions, and

clicked away.

tossed a

lemon drop wrapped


it

in

paper to them.

The one who

picked

it

up

unwrapped
us.

and popped

it

into his

mouth, and the others

started toward

"Quick, close the window!" the driver


I

said,

and

started the engine.

did as he asked, wondering

if

he saw them

as

emanations of the

Hindu monkey god, Hanuman, and


As soon
as
I

feared them.
hotel,
I

was

settled in

my

telephoned Tenzin Geyche


message. Because
I

Tethong, secretary to His Holiness, and


ther a student of

left a
I

was nei-

Buddhism nor

a devotee,

wondered

if I

would get the


they would

Dalai Lama's blessing for


call

me back with

the

my project. Tenzin Geyche time of mv audience.


divided
into

told

me

Dharamsala
munity, with
its

is

two

sections.

The Tibetan com-

monasteries, schools, libraries, and the headquarters and

residence of the Dalai


at the

Lama,
line.

is

in

McLeod Ganj, elevation 6,500 feet,


as "Little Lhasa," the area
is

just

edge of the snow

Known

a cul-

tural potpourri:

an assortment of

spiritual seekers in

raggedy shorts,

5 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

sleeveless vests,

Timberland boots, and backpacks mingled with swam is

of

burgund\-robed monks and Tibetan

women

in their

kimonolike chubas
everything

and striped aprons. The main road was lined with


from batik
of incense
air;

stalls selling

skirts

and mohair sweaters to prayer wheels and malas. Wafts


of marijuana filled the

mixed with the sweet, pungent aroma

beggar sat contented in the shade of a tree by the side of the road,
sitar,

playing a toy

a hauntingly lyrical

sound one could hear

a mile or

two

away Attached

to the strings of the makeshift instrument were

two mari-

onettes dressed as an Indian prince and princess, which danced as he

strummed.

It

was the best show

in town.

On the
They caught
level to

first morning,

had breakfast on the patio

of

my hill-

top hotel and watched two hawks glide just above the tips of the pines.
a

thermal and soared a bit higher until they were exactly eye
I

where

sat sipping

morning
is

tea

at the

hawk line.

Lobsang Lhalungpa, who

the son of the

Nechung oracle, had given


oracle.

me

a letter of introduction to

Tenzin Wandrak, the second state


second state oracle
is

Unlike the

Wanla
I

oracle, the

concerned only with


of

affairs of state.

set off

down

the

hill

to the

Gadong monaster};

which

Wandrak

is

the founder, to find him.

When Padmasambhava
of the "cannibal

first brought Buddhism into the land


by

demons"

in the eighth century a.d., the local deities,

nature extremely wrathful, resisted the peaceful aspects of the


gion.

new

reli-

Padmasambhava, however, gradually subdued each


supernatural battles, and placed the local

of

them

in a se-

ries of

spirits in a
spirit

hierarchy

according to their powers, establishing a network of


bet to watch over the dharma.

protectors in Ti-

The

last

and most powerful

of the deities

vanquished by Pad-

SANDY JOHNSON

masambhava came

to

him

in the

form of an eight-year-old novice monk.


a dorje (a ritual object represent-

Padmasambhava touched

his

head with

ing a thunderbolt, symbolic of the path of compassion), placed nectar


his tongue,

on

and named him and

his brother spirits

Pehar Gyalpo

the

Five Ferocious Kings.


In time, a system
to these spirits
are the

also hierarchical

of

mediums who have


Nechung and

access

grew The two

state oracles, the

the Gadong,

most important because they have access

to the spirit of Pehar


is

Gyalpo. Even today, one of the signs of the true

Nechung oracle

that his

breath has no odor before he becomes entranced with the

spirit of

Pehar

Gyalpo, but during the trance


print of a dorje will appear

it

will

develop a strong odor.

And

the im-

on

his forehead.

When
in 1642,

the Fifth Dalai

Lama

consolidated temporal power in Tibet

he named Pehar Gyalpo protector of the now central governas a dwelling for his
official seat of

ment, and had the Nechung monastery built

medium. Eventually the monastery became the


oracle of Tibet,

the state

who was

called

upon

to "channel" the power and

prophetic ability of the protectors. Frequently Dorje Drakden, the minister of the

Western King
while he
is

of Speech,

is

the

spirit

who

occupies the body of


It

the

medium

in a trance, acting for

Pehar Gyalpo.

was Dorje

Drakden who warned the Thirteenth Dalai Lama


against his
life

of an assassination plot

by

his regent and, as early as 1945, alerted Tibet to the also urged the Dalai

coming danger from China. He


in

Lama

to go to India
in-

1956 to establish

lines of

communication with Nehru, which proved

valuable to the Tibetan refugees

who

flooded the country in 1959.

The Gadong monastery


ropean-style haircut, resembled

lies

on

a hillside near the

temple and

residence of the Dalai Lama. Tenzin Wandrak, in slacks and shirt and Eu-

more

a casually dressed

businessman than

5 4

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

the second state oracle.


chat,

He

received

me

graciously,

and
is

after a friendly

he placed

phone

call to

Tsering Choedon. She

young Tibetan
me, and might

woman who
be available

speaks excellent English, Mr.

Wandrak
after,

told

as a translator.

She arrived soon

smiling brightly, eager to

be of help. She wore the traditional striped apron and crisp cotton blouse;
raven-black hair pulled tight in a long pony tail.
I

asked

Choedon

if

we

might begin with

a brief introduction.

"My

full name
I

is

Tenzin Wandrak Gadong.

was born

in

Gadong, Tibet.

am

fifty-eight years old.

There were

five sons

and four

daughters in our family.

My father had two wives. After giving birth to one


first

son and one daughter, his


wife."

wife died.

am

the eldest of the second

'And how was

it

that you

became

state oracle?"

"My
him.
I

father was the state oracle of

Gadong,

as

was
I

his father before


it

used to watch
I

my

father in trance. Because


it

have seen

since

childhood,

never thought of
is

as

anything

special. It

was

traditional.

The
is

mediumship
said to

our lineage, passed

down from

father to son.

Our lineage

have started seven generations back, during the time of great Fifth

Dalai Lama.
free to

One

son must

become the medium


else they like.

of

Gadong. Others

are

do public

service or

whatever
I

"Since the age of sixteen,

had served the Tibetan government

in

Tibet. In those days, Tibet was an independent country. In 1955

when His
in his en-

Holiness the Dalai

Lama

visited

China,

traveled with

him
staff.

tourage of more than seventy as part of his lower division


returned, the situation inside Tibet wasn't good.
in
I

When we
I

had seen the conditions

China, and

felt

that sooner or later


I

China would invade.

made an

excuse to

my
I

mother;

told her

wanted to go on a pilgrimage to India.

This

is

how

escaped, in 1957.

SANDY JOHNSON

5 5

Ten^in

Wandrak

ever,

my father knew that was going to India formy mother because we knew she would be against But on that fateful day as was leaving Tibet, my mother called me back. She gave me some tsampa to squeeze in my palm to make mv imprint.
'At that time, although
tell
I

we did not

it.

Then

she took

it

and put

it

in her

cupboard.

think she

knew

in

her heart

that she
"I

would not see


at

me again.
in Darjeeling until 1963,

worked

Kharshang Radio Station


a

when

my

father sent

me
I

message to come to Dharamsala to


to

join the exiled

government. So
Village for a few

went there

work
I

in the office of

Tibetan Children's
Library. In

months. Then

was moved to the Tibetan

1964

at a

meeting, His Holiness gave a speech about the difficulties in Tiin India

betan settlements

and expressed the need

for

some

volunteers.

So

went

to the Tibetan settlement in Orissa.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"During that
treat

year,
is

traveled back to

Dharamsala

for a

Yamantaka

re-

[Yamantaka
.

a meditational deity
as

the wrathful form


I

of the Bud-

dha of Wisdom] One evening


cold feeling

we were having

dinner, a very unusual

came over me, and my body suddenly experienced other


I

strange sensations.

was very scared;

thought

was going to

die.

That
few

was the
years,

first

sign of the onset of

mediumship. After

that, for the next

nothing more happened.


in 1967,
I

"Then
asleep,
I

started getting sick often,


I

and sometimes while


of bed.
It felt

would become so scared


fire

would jump out


body.
I

as

if

someone had thrown


were the sign of the "Because
I

inside

my
I

was told these happenings

spirit.

wasn't feeling well,


I

took two months off and came again

to Dharamsala.

told

my

father about

my

experiences.

saw

several dif-

ferent doctors, but


I

none

of

them could help me. Medication

didn't work.

was losing weight, getting very skinny;

"One day
'Just

consulted the oracle about


[spiritually],

my complexion darkened. my health. The answer was,


five

keep yourself clean

and accordingly the radiance of

lights will

be
I

revealed.'

did not understand the meaning of that answer,

so

one day

went

to see

my

teacher and asked the meaning of 'the radi-

ance of

five lights will


is

be revealed.'

He explained that the spirit of the proBuddha


families,

tector deity

the emanation of five

and the message

meant

that

was going to be the

oracle.
1

"By the time

my

father died, in 1975,

was the only son residing

in

the Tibetan settlements in India and serving in the Tibetan governmentin-exile:

one of

my brothers was living in


I

Bhutan, and another in Canada;

the others were back inside Tibet.


ities

was asked to take over the responsibil1

of this monastery,
"It
is

and

in 1976,

was appointed

oracle.

difficult to explain exactly


I

how

first

experienced being a
in

medium, because although

sense

some uneasiness

my

nerves before

SANDY JOHNSON

am fully in trance. It's quite complicated. When the spirit is about to enter my body, start to shake. It seems as if all the channels, the veins of my body are
the onset of the trance,
I

don't

remember anything when

being

filled

up. There
is

is

a considerable

measure of discomfort.
if

"Since this

not prevalent in Western countries, some people ask


learned. But
it is

mediumship can be
taught or learned.
a tenant.

not something that can be either

It is

more

like

the relationship between a landlord and


spirit,

That

is,

your body becomes a house for the

and you betaken

come

totally

unconscious. You don't

know anything about what has

place during the trance.

"On
year,

the tenth day of the

first

month of every Tibetan lunar calendar


into trance together
at times.)

the two state oracles,


a

Nechung and Gadong, go


also

and hold

ceremony.

(We

go into trance individually

The

ceremony takes place

in the big

temple

hall.

During

official

ceremonies,

outsiders are not permitted to attend, but there are other ceremonies

where outsiders can observe. For instance, Drepung monastery could


quest a ceremony, and for this people would be permitted to attend.

reIf

someone wants

to hold a trance ceremony with the state oracles, one has

to get authorization

from His Holiness."

had seen

pictures of the state oracle's ceremonial dress.


a

It

looked

like

an ancient warrior's costume. Before


legs,

ceremony, the oracle dons red


fit

brocade trousers with six-foot-wide

which

over his normal pants

and

are folded

and

tied at his ankles;

and knee-high white leather boots


fiery red eyes of

with curled toes, appliqued with the

wrathful deities.

Over

a red silk shirt,


it is

he wears two heavy robes,

tied loosely, since during

trance

not unusual for the oracle's body to swell up two inches.

On

top of

all

of this,

he puts on an ancient Tibetan mail jerkin of gold-leafed

58

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

ringlets.

Something resembling
is

a backpack,

which holds four

flags

and

three victory banners,


strips of red cloth that

then secured around his waist. In addition to

bind his sleeves

the

left

padded

as for archery
silk

and

stitched with three scarlet eyes

he wears
center.

a red, yellow,

and gold

front-

piece with a golden mirror in


tilate in trance,

its

As the

oracle begins to hyperven-

the mirror will quiver and shake.

A three-foot-long silver sword and buckle is attached to his left side,


a

golden quiver

filled

with arrows to his

right.

Each

article

is

decorated

with elaborate embroidery and encrusted with turquoise, amethyst, and


other jewels.

Tenzin Wandrak told


strains his

me

that

when he

is

not in trance, he often


full regalia.

muscles from the enormous weight of the

The huge

headdress would snap the neck of a normal man. But once in trance, the
oracle leaps about,

bowing

easily to the Dalai


air,

Lama, swinging the sword,


ritual steps that are

tossing scarves twelve feet in the

and dancing the

part of the ceremony. Since the oracle loses consciousness during the
trance,

he must

rely

on attendants.

"A specially trained person must


the chin of the oracle.
it

tie

the headdress underneath the oracle, too late and


so active.
It all

If

tied too early

it

could

kill

can't

be tied on

at all

because the

spirit

becomes

hap-

pens in a few seconds.

It is

equally important to untie the knot the

mo-

ment the

spirit leaves

the oracle.

"While the
his head, held

oracle waits for the spirit to enter, the headdress rests


spirit is in trance,
it,

on

by the attendants. Once the


far as
I

the knot will


I

then be

tied.

As
I

know, no one has ever weighed


the headdress on.

but when

am

not in trance

can't

move with

"We were unable to bring the original costume to India; it was lost to

SANDY JOHNSON

the Chinese during the invasion.

A new

headdress and costume were

made here

in India

under the sponsorship of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.


think that since
is

"Many Western people


ever
I

say

is

the prophecy, but that

not

so.

am the main oracle, whatOnly when am in trace and


I

consulting, whatever the deities


wise,
I

say, that's
I

the oracle's prophecy. Other-

am only a layperson, whatever


in the

believe
I

may

or

may

not be true."
if

'And who exactly are these

spirits?"

asked, wondering

they were
refer

who people

West

call spirit

guides,

and who Native Americans

to as the Grandfathers.

"There are different kinds of


spirit

spirits.

We

are talking here

about the

which emanates from buddhas and bodhisattvas, whose main puris

pose

to help beings develop spiritually

and to lead them

to the path of

the truth.

"People think that the


isn't

spirits are

the advisors only to His Holiness. the

It

that simple.
to

The

spirits are, in effect,

dharma

protectors.

We huto

mans need

communicate with them; and they

in turn

need to speak

us and advise us, and protect our minds from hindrances and obstacles,

not just offer prophecies and

tell

the future.

"In the case of His Holiness the Dalai


are like his employees,

Lama, the dharma protectors

who do what he

tells

them

to do. For example, an

employer might ask


things.

his

employees to find information about certain

The employee
makes

goes and discovers the specific information, then


all

reports back to the employer. After gathering

the information, the

em-

ployer then
liness

his final decision.

So the relationship between His HoTherefore, the

and the

spirit

works

like that.

dharma

protectors

work under him, rather then above him.

"To do such

a job, the spirit has to

be very powerful. Some

spirits are

capable of telling events within one month's time,

some one

year's, five

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

year's, a century's,
tell

and so on. The one that we

are talking

about can

fore-

an infinite amount of time."


I

told Mr.

Wandrak about

the

Wanla

oracle

and asked

if

he knew of

him.
"No, but besides the state oracles there are others
to the general public."

who are

accessible

"Do people
"If

generally find the information to be accurate?"

asked.

you ask

a question that falls within the perimeter of the spirit's

clairvoyance, he will give

you the

right advice.

If

your question
I

is

beyond

the reach of the


spirits'

spirit's ability,

he

will tell you.

personally believe that

prophecies are accurate, since the

spirit in

question can

tell

both

past and future.

That

is

why we

consult with the

spirit to find reincarna-

tions of late, great lamas


"I

and teachers.
here.
It is

would

like to

add something

important

for us to

know
if

how much
we

understanding you people have about our tradition. Because

don't understand

how much you know about our culture, we might

say

things which need not be said.

And sometimes we
Nechung

don't say enough so


spirit plays a

that you will understand. For example, the


in safeguarding the welfare of

big role

our country's religious and


is

political system.
It is

Whether we use
of

the information or not

totally

up

to us.

the nature
suf-

karma that happiness comes

as a result of

our

own good deeds, and


karma and

fering results

from our bad deeds. The fulfillment of the prophecy, then,

depends

a great deal

on our

actions. It

is

certain that

if

all

the
is

conditions are right, the prophecy will


just a very basic explanation of

come

true; otherwise, not. This

how this

system works.

"The Tibetan
dhist belief

people's lives are inextricably interwoven with Bud-

and philosophy. To know more about our tradition and how it


it

works, one has to view

in the light of the

Buddhist belief system. There-

SANDY JOHNSON

fore,

it is

important to have some knowledge of Buddhism


rituals."

in order to

un-

derstand Tibetan culture and

was beginning

to see

how much

the Tibetans had lost as a

re-

sult of the

Chinese occupation. The traditions they managed to bring


into exile

with

them

had been torn from

a fabric as ornate

and

intricate as

the oracle's ceremonial dress.


into
life

Was

it

realistic to

think

it

could be stitched

outside of Shangri-la?

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

PALACE INTRIGUES

Tenzin Wandrak had arranged forme to meet a monk who


is

the son of Gyalten Namgyal, tailor to both the Thirteenth and Four-

teenth Dalai Lamas.

The son would

take Tsering

Choeden and me

to his

home.

We walked past the kindergarten complex to a groundfloor

apartment, where his father the


pillows.

tailor lay

on

his bed,

propped up on
was

He had been

ill;

the skin on his face

thin, translucent, the eyes sunken. His

head seemed to
skull.
I

float

above the bedcovers, a disembodied

Yet he

seemed eager to

talk,

and

recalled his life in astonishing detail.

promised
telling

to keep the interview short so as not to tire him, but


his story.

he insisted on

We arranged ourselves on chairs and stools around the bed, and


up the tape recorder and microphone.

set

My eye was drawn to the bookcase

on the opposite

side of the

room, to the odd assortment of objects

set

among
and

the religious articles and scriptures: a Garfield cup that read,


the

"What do you mean we're out of Coke?"; two books, Gone with
Scarlett;

Wind,

an

ET doll;

an autographed photo of Richard Gere;

a statue

of Goofy.

Sounds

of children playing outside


voice.

and dogs barking did not

drown out the old man's determined

"I

was born

in 1912, the

Year of the Water Mouse.

My grandfaa village near

ther was a ngagpa, a lay Tantric practitioner,

and came from

Lhasa called Dechen. The people


tates of

in that village

owed

allegiance to the es-

Demo Rinpoche, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's regent. Demo Rinpoche asked my grandfather to come to Lhasa to administer the estate. He gave my grandfather and his family a house. Since we had no schools at that time, my grandfather taught my father to read and write. "But a few years later, in 1898, my grandfather died. A few months
after that, the regent

was imprisoned.

He had joined a plot to kill


They had

the [pre-

vious] Dalai

Lama by means

of black magic.

written spells on a

piece of paper to be put inside His Holiness's beautiful

new boots, but


it,

the

Nechung

oracle, while in

one of

his trances, learned of


jail.

and

Demo Rinfa-

poche was arrested and thrown

in

He

died there shortly

after.

"My mother came from


ther,

the largest house in

Nyamo

Tsang. Her

who was

chief administrator to the Sixth


,

Panchen Lama [second-

highest lama in Tibet] brought his family to Lhasa and rented a wing of

our house. Later, our families arranged a marriage between

my mother

and

my

father.

My father was
to

master of robes to the Dalai Lama's family,

and

secretary in the Sokhang, the

head
I

office of the tailor's guild.


eight.

"He taught me

sew when

was

When

was

ten,

my

father

was asked to make applique thangkas of the Sixteen Arhats, and allowed

me

to

work on them. He

also took

me on his tent-making jobs

for the

no-

64

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Gyalten

Namgyal

ble families,

who used them


style,

for picnics.

The

tents were very elaborate,


floor

round, in Mongolian
the walls.
"I

and had carpets on the

and thangkas on

became

skilled

enough

to

be entered into the

tailor's guild for fur-

ther training.

The

tailor's guild

had been established by the

Fifth Dalai

Lama

in the

seventeenth century, and was an institution of high prestige

with a special area in the temple.


cated

We all wore round yellow hats that indiNovices could be severely


disci-

we were

in

government

service.

plined by the ones on top,

who were

allowed to slap

them

in the face for

being

slow.

"The Thirteenth Dalai Lama

[the current Dalai

Lama

is

the Four-

SANDY JOHNSON

6 5

teenth] was particularly interested in fine

arts,

which
I

is

why

there were so
to en-

many great

painters

and

artists

during his time.

had always wished

ter the Dalai


per.

Lama's
felt in

service,

even though everyone was afraid of his temred,

When

he

an angry mood, he wore

and everyone around

him was

very careful.

Even English government

representatives

who had

audiences with His Holiness were afraid of


"I

him when he wore

red.

remember the

first

time

saw His Holiness.


gift of silver

He had come

to the

workshop to distribute
imposing
in his

his

annual

coins to the tailors.

He was

golden brocade robe. After that, he would often tour the


tailors as
If

sewing rooms, scrutinizing the


cushions, cutting and sewing.

they sat cross-legged on their


like,

he saw something he didn't

he
it

scolded us. Once,


to His Holiness,

when we had
if

finished a piece of

work and presented

he asked

we had washed our hands. "These brocades


for

belong to the government; they're not

you to make
his

dirty."

"The Thirteenth Dalai Lama changed

brocaded robes every

day.

The brocades came from the Norbulinka

treasury,

many of them from

the

Manchu

emperors, and had been offered to successive Dalai Lamas over

centuries.

When

was fourteen, the Dalai Lama decided he wanted a Ti-

betan national

flag

made, and designed


first flag

it

himself.
I

When a prototype was

approved and the


work.

commissioned,

was the one to execute the

"My

father died suddenly

when I was

seventeen.

My mother, whose
I

youngest was barely walking, became desolate. She decided


over the household and look after the family. By then
I

should take

was getting private

work
to a

in addition to the

money I earned from

the government; a marriage

girl

from a good family was arranged.


night as
I

"One

was doing

my

sewing in

my house,
all

heard shouting

outside, calling for

mourning and ordering that

prayer flags be lowered.

Men must unwind their hair, and women should remove their ornaments.
6 6

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

The Thirteenth
Only
a

Dalai

Lama had

died.

It

had happened quite suddenly.

few days before, he had come into the workroom to ask


I

me

if

the

white brocade robe


initiation.
I

was working on would be ready


it

for the
it; it

Kalachakra

assured

him

would.

He was

never to wear

was worn by

our present Dalai

Lama when he gave

the Kalachakra initiation in Lhasa.


in Shol,

"He had

also asked that the

house

below the

Potala,
I

be fixed

up, because soon

someone would be coming


I

to stay there.

didn't think

much

of

it

then, but after he passed away,

realized that His Holiness

had

known

that the regent

would soon be enthroned. The house


Thirteenth Dalai
Pure Lands.

in Shol al-

ways served

as the regent's residence; the

Lama was

an-

nouncing

his

forthcoming departure
tailors of

for the

"Eighty of the 130

the Sokhang were selected to


stupa,

make the
in the
it

brocade decorations
Potala with the

for the

new

which was to be placed


Lamas.

mausoleums

of the other Dalai

We

completed

in thirteen days.

"The construction
remains took about a

of the stupa

and the preserving of His Holiness's


process was done in the

year.

The mummifying
body

Potala in the traditional manner: the

fluids

were extracted with

salt;
I

then, after the drving was completed, the remains were covered in gold.

was among the fourteen people to go inside the golden stupa and arrange
the robes. Just before the remains were dressed, a protrusion in the shape
of the Chenrezig statue

had emerged from His Holiness's shoulder. Retmg

Rmpoche, Ling Rinpoche, and Gyalwang Tulku were among the others

who

saw

this.

Reting Rinpoche told

me had
I

served His Holiness well,


I

and that when the new incarnation came to Lhasa,


him.

would be serving

"My wife
stillborn.

died giving birth

when I was

twenty-four, and the baby was

My mother

saw

this as a sign that

we should

give

up

all

worldly

things, our lovely house,

and

all

our possessions, and dedicate ourselves

SANDY JOHNSON

6 J

strictly to

the dharma. Everyone in the family

became

monk

or nun.

took

my

vows from Phabongka Rinpoche and received

my new

name,

Gyalten Namgyal.

My mother removed her ear ornaments and set out for


many
I

Bhari Labrang, where she spent


to resign

years in seclusion.

She wanted

me

my

post as

Chenmo, but

had already been appointed


I

to lead
I

the restoration of the temple decorations at Samye.


resign

promised

would

when

the work was completed.


at

"While

Samye

became

friends with the oracle of Tsuimar,


I

Samye's main protector


into a trance.

deity.

During the ceremony,

watched him go

He began by

eating a raw animal heart, then danced wildly,


to ensure the protector's support in

brandishing a weapon.

He blessed me

the renovations. Then, on the third day of the trance, the blind oracle ran

along the edges of the roof.

When the trance ended, he was the

same old

man with no eyeballs, feeling his way around with his stick. "When work at Samye was nearly finished, we heard that
teenth incarnation of the Dalai

the Four-

Lama had been found and


his arrival in

recognized in
All

Amdo

[eastern Tibet],
officials,

and that

Lhasa was imminent.

government
welcoming

lamas, and abbots would be part of the elaborate


I

celebrations.

was ordered to remain

at

Samye

to

make

tents,

the most important being the 'Great Peacock Tent,' in which the young
Dalai

Lama would

hold his

first

audiences before the

final

procession to
his throne;

Lhasa.
I

When

saw him, he looked very small yet composed on

was overjoyed to receive our new Holiness's blessing."


It

had been explained

to

me

that the Dalai

Lama

is

seen as an ema-

nation of Chenrezig

a living

buddha.
I

"When the celebrations were over, handed in my resignation according to my promise to mv mother. The cabinet, unwilling to accept my resignation, made me a monk official instead, so that could continue to
I

serve His Holiness.

At the age of twenty-seven,

was appointed Namsa

6 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Gelong, personal
der
of

tailor to

the Dalai Lama, and a workshop was set up un-

my direction. New decorations were ordered for the three monasteries


in

Drepung, Sera, and Ganden


all
I

time

for the

enthronement.

was also

responsible for

the statues and

new

sets of robes for the


tailors in

Nechung and

Gadong

oracles.

chose sixty of the best

Lhasa.

We were given a
all

large space at the foot of the Potala.

"On

the appointed day, the thirtieth of the second month,


lay

the

monks and
Dalai

government

officials lined

up

in front of the Potala.

The

Lama watched

the procession, which took several hours, from the

window
retinue.

of the palace.

The Nechung

oracle

came out

in trance

with his

The day before,

there was a throwing of ritual cakes and the send-

ing off of the scapegoat, a


face painted black

man

dressed in a goatskin with one side of his


Barkor,

and the other white. He would go around the

begging

for

money, knowing that people would never want to displease

such an inauspicious character as himself. His expulsion began with a

game

of dice with the abbot of a nearby monastery. This

game was

sup-

posed to determine

who would be

the scapegoat, but

many

say the dice

were fixed because the same person always would be chosen.

Two monks

would drag him out of Lhasa by the

collar, all

the way to Samye. This cer-

emony was

said to originate in the days of the Early Kings,

and was meant

to appease negative forces in the political sphere.

"Many

preparations needed to be

made

for

Gyalwa Rinpoche's

[the

Dalai Lama's] entrance into the

Drepung and Sera monasteries.

We

worked

for six

months with

materials from the

Namsa

treasury high up in

the Potala. Very few people were allowed into this storehouse of brocades,

and those few had

to take off their

chubas

first

so nothing could be con-

cealed in their robes.


that

An official

at the curtained

door checked everything


after the

went

in or out.

The Namsa

treasury

named

Buddha

of

Wealth, whose statue was inside

was only one

of

many

storehouses

SANDY JOHNSON

69

within the Potala. Once,

went into one that had been dug

right into the

mountain, while torches

lit

our way through the total darkness

among the

massive foundation walls.


'As
I

worked to

restore the hermitage

and to make new ceiling

friezes

and

pillar

hangings for the Sera and Drepung monasteries, great

political
I

intrigue swirled

around

my head, but
things

didn't pay

much attention.
later,

won't

go into

it

now, but

many

happened then and


I

including the

destruction of the Reting monastery, which


bet's merit, therefore

think helped to use

up

Ti-

making

it

possible for the Chinese to invade."

The

tailor

then recounted

how he had been


stories that
I

personally affected by

the Chinese occupation


(so

horror

would hear again and again


this

much

so that

have dedicated an entire section of

book to those

experiences, which begins on page 129). Finally he was able to leave Tibet

and

fulfill

his

dream: to make a new hat for the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

JO

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

GLIMPSES OF

ANOTHER WORLD

Having glimpsed
Tibet, with
its

a little

more

of the gilded world of ancient


I

rich brocades

and palace
I

politics,

was curious now to learn

something of the monastic system.


role of

had heard almost nothing about the


if

women

in Tibet, so

asked

Choedon

we might

visit

the nuns in
tailor's.

the abbey
I

we passed on the way back from the

noticed that the nuns wear the same burgundy-and-

saffron robes as the

monks, and with

their shaved heads,

they are virtually indistinguishable from their male counterparts.

Although Tibet
of Tara,

is

a patriarchal society, the ancient texts

tell

of the origin

one of the female buddhas. Her name was Princess Yeshe Dawa, Wis-

dom Moon, and she lived many eons ago. Her practices were so great and her
offerings so

numerous

that she was told by the lamas, "If you pray to


will

come

back

in a

man's body, you

become enlightened in

the next lifetime."

Yeshe

Dawa refused, and made a vow instead


all

to remain in a

woman's

form. She would work for the benefit of


of samsara ends

sentient beings until the cycle

and there

is

no more

suffering in the world.


herself

Then,

after

many more eons

of practices

and meditation, she

was

finally liber-

ated from samsara.

According to legend, Yeshe

Dawa would

not eat her breakfast until

she had freed a million beings from suffering; lunch until another million

were freed; and dinner until she had freed


she

still

another million. In time


Rescues, the Tibetan

became known
for Tara.

as

Drolma, the Mother

Who

name

Yet

had heard

of very few female tulkus, recognized rein-

carnations of enlightened beings.

The Geden Choeling


founded
in 1973

Buddhist Abbey in Dharamsala was

by twenty-one exiled nuns under the care of the Tibetan

Nuns

Project.

This population has grown to more than two hundred, with

more nuns
fering

arriving

from Tibet each

day,

many of whom have endured

suf-

beyond comprehension.

Before the Chinese invasion, there were eight hundred abbeys in Tibet,

housing up to twenty-seven thousand nuns, the

largest

group of Bud-

dhist

nuns

in the world.

Monasteries and abbeys were an early target of

the Chinese Communists. In the words of


ligion
is

Chairman Mao Zedong, "Reundermines the race and


re-

poison.

It

has two great defects:

It

tards the progress of the country. Tibet

and Mongolia both have been

poisoned by

it."

In occupied Tibet,

nuns and monks

are regarded with

deep

distrust.
is

Their resilience

in the face of interrogation

and

torture in prison

viewed

bv their captors as provocation. After each crackdown on demonstrations,


it

has been the nuns


to confront

who have

initiated

new marches.

It is

their duty, they

feel,

China and

to fight for Tibet's freedom.

7-2

THE BOOK OF

B E TA

.V

ELDERS

Newang Choezin,

age sixty-nine and born in Lhasa,


stairs to

is

the retired
its

head nun. She led us up the

her small room, with


sit

neatly

arranged desk and book. She motioned for us to


a seat in the straight-backed

on the bed

as she took

wooden desk

chair.

"I
I

was the umze

prayer master, of this abbey for a long time, but

now am retired. The umze's


is

primary responsibility

is

to see that everyone

in prayer position; she

then leads the prayers. The

umze also teaches

the

younger nuns.

"My mother
not hard for

died

when

was a

child,

and

felt

so alone. Since
a nun,
it

al-

ready was interested in learning the

dharma and becoming

was

me to enter the abbey. My dharma teacher, who was a relative,


I

was very kind.


I

was never lonely


that
it

after that."

told the

umze

was

difficult for
I

me to imagine what life in an


rigors of a

abbey must be
life

like for a little girl.

had heard about the

monk's

in a monastery,

and wondered

if

they were the same in an abbey.

"Discipline in an abbey

may seem strict, considering we were allowed

to visit our family only twice a year.


ing, at five.

And we had

to rise early in the

morn-

Then we would have

prayer sessions, then lessons, and after

that, lunch.

"In addition to learning to read religious scriptures,


skilled at

we became

embroidery and applique work.


hair,

We made colorful things out of


also

dyed yak

handicrafts which

we used and which

brought

in

money

to

supplement our abbey's funds.


at the

"There were nunneries

top of the

hill,

where nuns who had


I

studied in Lhasa taught Tibetan poetry, grammar, astrology, and so on.

went there to
the village.

study. History

learned from

some

Christians

had met

in

"My

childhood in the abbey was a happy time.

My room was

only a

SANDY JOHNSON

J3

little

smaller than this one we're sitting

in.

The house was

constructed of

stone and

mud, and
all

quite comfortable."
I

'And did

of

you get along well?"

asked, wondering

if

nuns

are im-

mune
dents,

to petty jealousies of the

and tensions other young


Since

women
all
is

are subject to.

'All

women got along quite well.


to

we

were dharma stunature, so

we were taught

watch our minds. Jealousv

human

occasionally there might be

some

tension, but not so that everybody

would get involved.


adaptable

Also,

think that generally nuns tend to be prettv

women.
if

"Buddhist philosophy says that everyone wants happiness. So

you

want happiness, help others be happy; then there


ness
is

is

no

conflict. His Holi-

always reminding us of this."


confession?
is

"Is there

And

to

whom do you make confession?"


when you
is

"Confession
this

not

like

it is

in Christianity,

say,

'I

have done

and

this

and

this/

But within the

scriptures, there

a place

where vou

visualize,

admit what you have done wrong,

regret having

done unfortu-

nate actions,

vow to

yourself not to repeat them,

and do prostrations and

other things to purify any bad acts within the past fifteen days. You think
this to yourself,

not out loud."

"Was
dia?
Is it

it

a difficult

adjustment

to leave Tibet

and

live in exile in In-

verv different here?"

"In Tibet,

we could do anything we
I

liked,

but

now in

exile

we have

to

depend on
in

others. Also,

have
I

problem with the water


it.

here.

The water

Tibet was so clean, so pure.


"I left

miss

Tibet in 1961.

When the Chinese came and there was the unfear. It

successful uprising, everyone felt


I

was either

flee

Tibet or be killed."
in the

would learn more about the invasion and the uprising


to

months
people.

come, and of the extraordinary

spiritual

heroism of the Tibetan

7 4

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Newang Choe^in

left

Choedon

and headed toward the

hotel.

She would meet

me

for tea in the

morning, and we would go together to see Locho Rin-

poche, a master whose

name had come up

frequently in

my reading,

and

Ani Gomchen, the eighty-seven-year-old nun

whom Newang

Choezin

had

told

me about.
I

Later on that night


called

was suddenly
a

felled

by what the desk clerk


it

euphemistically seemed
tually provided

and with

certain proprietary fondness,

a "Delhi-belly"

He

prescribed a foul-smelling potion, which ac-

enough

relief to

buy

me a few hours'
Choedon

sleep.

The next morning

Tsering

called for

me

as arranged,

and we went to find Ani Gomchen.

On

the way

we met an

old

man

sit-

SANDY JOHNSON

7 5

ting by the side of the road


a cup, a bowl,

under

a makeshift tent. His

few belongings

some

candles, sticks of incense, bottles of water

were

neatly arranged to one side.

On

the other, stacks of scriptures lovingly

wrapped

in cloth sat next to piles of


it

smooth

stones.

fire

was kept go-

ing for his tea; beside

bag of tsampa.

We

stopped to watch as he

carved a mantra onto a stone, so deep in concentration he did not notice us for

some

time.
I

When
all

he looked up,

asked him, through Choedon, where he got

the stones.

"I

buy the smooth stones from the Indian

traders,
I

who

bring

them on
I

the backs of horses from the riverbank. Before


first,

carve the stone,

paint the words

because

believe that
life

if

you

start carving

on the

bare surface, then you will be creating


that the stone has feeling. After
scripture to
I

on the naked body.


in red,
I

We believe
it

paint

it

compare

with the

make

sure

it is

right."

Pleased that

we showed

interest in his stones,

he went on

tell

us

about his

life as well.

"I lived

on

farm

in central Tibet. In
I

my

family were four sons, in-

cluding me, and four daughters.

became

monk at

the Sera monastery,

but
flict

left at

the age of twenty-five, during the Regency, because of a conI

involving a ceremonv.

didn't

know then
cook

that the Chinese were

com-

ing.

For twelve years


I

worked

as a

in a school in

Delahousie. After

that

worked on road construction,

like all of
I

the Tibetan refugees. But

then,
I

when

there was

no more work,

started stone caning. For four years


it,

watched and studied how people did


"I

then

started doing

it

every day.
six

come

here every morning at eight-thirty, and stav until five or

o'clock in the evening.

Sometimes
\

go to the

river to

wash

my

clothes.

Otherwise

am always here, all

ear round.

My daughter is a phannacist at

j6

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

the medical center.


paint the rocks."

get red

powder from her and mix

it

with water to

'What gave you the


"I

idea to carve the stones?"


a beggar.
It is

didn't

want to be

enough that

have something to
offerings for

eat

and something to wear. People sometimes give


if

me

my

stones, but
river.

no one buys them

put them in that stupa up there near the

The water

that touches the stones spreads the blessings carved on

them. Also the wind that blows across the stones saves insects and other
living things

from a bad

rebirth.
six

believe this

work

is

holy work.
I

pray as

carve for

all

those in the

realms of samsara. In the morning


I

burn three
of

incense sticks and pray that whatever accumulation of merit

make out
This
is

caning the stones be


prayer every morning."

for the benefit of all sentient beings.

my

We
had

walked on
Not
all

in silence.

was

lost in
it

thought,

moved by what

just seen.

holy

men wear robes,

seems.

When we
lane well off
lead

reached the other side of town, we turned


Ganj's main road and
I

down

a dusty

McLeod

came

to stone steps,

which

down

to a

row of apartments.

stepped around slugs the

size of cigars

that clung to the stone,

and reminded myself that these too


is

are sentient
life

beings and that repulsion

only a personal view. In

my

next

they

might be

a litter of puppies, albeit ugly ones.


at the door,

Choedon knocked
a wide, toothless smile.

and the nun's face appeared, smiling


in front of her face,

Hands together
to her tiny

Ani

Gomchen
to
sit.

bowed

to us in

welcome

one-room hut, and beckoned us

We settled on the edge of the only piece of furniture, her bed. Ani Gomchen
sat cross-legged

on

a cushion

on the

floor.

The

walls were filled with photographs of the Dalai

Lama,

prints of

the deities, altar cups; a prayer wheel

hung by

a string

above the bed. Ani

SANDY JOHNSON

J J

Gomchen's

skin was

smooth and unlined, her head shaven. Her burgundy


if

robes were frayed and stained and looked as


in years.

they had not been washed

large

mouse jumped from an open cupboard onto the

slab of

grease-coated concrete that served as a countertop.

film of dust

and

grease covered everything in the room: the teacups, the boxes of food, the
iron pot

on the

stove.
I

My hostess asked if we would take tea; at the risk of


Then, reaching behind
I

seeming impolite,
la

declined.

a soiled curtain, Ani-

brought out a basket of biscuits. shook my head and put my hand to my stomach to indicate my "problem," and the nun immediately handed me a small brown pellet wrapped in paper. Choedon explained it was a Tipill,

betan

but

thanked her and smiled and demurred.


I

Once more
sciousness that
is

reminded myself that

it is

the condition of one's con-

important, not the externals. At the

moment it was

all

could do to keep

my mind off the condition of my very upset stomach and

concentrate instead on the clarity in her eyes and the pure joy of her smile.

"My
abbey

original name was Yeshe Toma, but when


I

was

in

an

in Delahousie,
If

was given the name Ani Gomchen, which means


for

Grand Meditator.

someone came here asking


is.

Yeshe Toma, no one

would know who that


Dalai

This

is

how

got

my

name: His Holiness the

Lama had come

to the abbey in Delahousie to give teachings; after-

ward he went
door to get
was. She
a

in to see

our temple.
Finally,

We

nuns waited

a long

time

at the

glimpse of him.

one of the nuns went to see where he

came running back and

said His Holiness


'Is

wanted to see me.


your
seat?'
I

was very nervous.

When

got there, he asked,

this

said yes.

'What

prayers are you doing?'

Then he

asked to see
it

my

prayer book,
it

which was very old and worn. His Holiness took


forehead, then

and touched

to his

handed

it

to

me and

said,

'Thank

you.'

jS

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"After that, the


"I

head nun honored

me with the name Ani Gomchen.


I

am

eighh -seven-and-a-half years old now.

was the youngest of


a

nine children in our family.


big family in
very voung,
I

My

father's family

comes from lamas, from


I

Kham.

My mother comes from northern Tibet. When was would recite mantras in my dreams. When other girls would
mutton and exchange them
offer
for fancy things,
I

take skins of

would take
I

whatever

had and

them
in

to the lamas. Since childhood,

knew

wanted to be

a nun.
I

Even

my
if I

next
If

life,
I

my

wish

is

to practice the

dharma, whether
if

am male or female.
nun

am male,

I'd like to
I

be

monk;

female, I'd like to be a

have

a choice.

But

don't think we're

given a choice.

"When was thirteen, my parents were going to arrange a marriage for me into a noble family, but begged them to let me go on a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash with a friend of my sister's. They tried to discourage me, telling me that the journey was very hard, that we would have to support
I

ourselves by begging

and might be attacked by robbers.

pleaded and

pleaded, and finally they let


the holy places.
that time,
I

me go.

did pilgrimages
7

all

over Tibet, visiting

When

I'd

reach a monaster}
I

I'd

do

a full prostration.

At

it

was easy because

was young, not

like

now At Mount Kailash

did

many

full prostrations.
I

"When

was seventeen
I

my mother passed away My father went into


him through
a small hole.
I

closed retreat, and


a 'dark retreat,'

would

deliver food to
sit

did
I

where you
with

in a

room with only

a pinpoint of light.
it

re-

quested to do
to

this

my

friend.

The lama

said that

would be harder
lie

do

it

with another person because

we wouldn't be

able to

down

to
I

sleep; the

hut was big enough only

for

one person. But

my

friend

and

wanted

to

do

it

together.
all

'After

one month, we made circumambulations with prostrations which took


a

around a

hill,

whole

day.

Suddenly a hailstorm came up, with

SANDY JOHNSON

7 9

Wk

Ani Gomchen

much thunder and


was watching the

lightning.

We
it

prayed and the hailstorm went back.


a vision of

sky. All

of a

sudden
filled

Guru Rinpoche
it

[Pad-

masambhava] appeared,

so big

the

sky.

Then

turned into a rainit

bow. After a while the rainbow turned to green. While

was green,
that.
it

saw

Green

Tara.

At one point, she was smiling.


I

We both
seen.

saw
said

Rinpoche
bless-

was very pleased when


ing of the guru.

told

him what I had

He

was the

"When
dain

was twenty

took some jewelry and valuable objects from

our house, went to a high lama, offered him

my hair, and asked him to orI

me

as a

nun.

When

entered the abbey,

felt as if

had been freed

from prison.
"Later on,
I

did a long retreat.

didn't have a clock, but

used to
I

start

the Tara rituals at about four in the morning. During those years,

vowed

8 o

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

to recite ten million Vajra

Guru mantras

of
I

Padmasambhava: 'Oni ah
I

hung

vajra

guru

padme

siddhi hum.'

When came out of retreat,

heard

about the invasion.


"I

received a letter from


it

my lama saying the Chinese had invaded Tileave:

bet and

would be better to
if

'No one knows what

will

happen

in

the future, but


left for India.
I

you want to

join us, please come.'

Two thousand

of us

was fifty-one then.


to

"Word came
as a tulku

me that my brother's
him
to

son,

who had been

recognized

belonging to the Drikung monastery, had been arrested. The

Chinese

tried to get

abandon

his faith
as well

and to denounce the Dalai


him, he would never de-

Lama. He refused, saying they might

kill

nounce the Dalai Lama. Eventually he died


and has been reborn abroad.

at the

hands of the Chinese

"We came
ing in the

directly to
in,

Dharamsala. The Indian government had


roads.

given us tents to live

and jobs building

The

Dalai

Lama was

liv-

Old Palace

at

Swarag Ashram then. Twice a week he would give


to see him,

audiences, and

we

all

would go

which made us very happy.

"Two years later, I was


longed to the Karmapa.
I

invited to join an abbey in Delahousie that be-

hadn't finished the ten million Vajra


that.
I

Guru

mantras in Tibet, so

spent another three years completing

had the

same

routine: silence for seven days, then

one day to get food. Otherwise

my

door was firmly shut. During the

retreat, a very

good neighbor would

buy things

food, other things

for

me."
I

"You brought nothing with you?"


life

asked, trying hard to imagine the

of a renunciate.
"I

don't have any other belongings, just what people have given me.

They

ask

me

to

do pujas

for

them, and give


family. It
I

me

offerings.

This house was

an old kitchen of an Indian

used to be smaller, but during

my

three-year meditation retreat,

cut out a wall to have

more

space."

SANDY JOHNSON

Si

"What would you do


"I

if

you became
all

ill?"

never got sick during


I

the years in retreat, but once, here in


I

Dharamsala,

became

ill

for a

month.

thought

my

image of Guru RinI

poche and
a

my copy of a scripture should be given to His Holiness, so


day,

sent
to

message to his residence. The next


I

two members

of his staff

came

me to take me to him, but wasn't even able to get up. So the two men picked me up and carried me to the Dalai Lama's residence. When they put me down could hardly see. His Holiness came over and stroked my head and asked, 'What has happened to you?' He recited some mantras and blew three times on me. got well right after that. Now if ever get sick, visualize that His Holiness is blessing me and get cured."
get
I I I I
I

"Have you had other opportunities

to see His Holiness?"

"This year there was a big prayer going on in the Palace. His Holiness
invited

me to stay the whole time.


many

In Tibet,

nuns were not allowed to

par-

ticipate in

of the big prayer festivals, but His Holiness specifically


his discipline

said during
for

one of his teachings that the Buddha had taught

both male and female ordained beings."

From the time was a small girl, used to write my wishes in my diary. My cousin and would make lists on our birthdays and again on the New Year we allowed ourselves exactly twelve wishes. When Ani GomI
I I

chen was
bra (and

thirteen, she

wished

for a pilgrimage; at thirteen,

wished

for a

bosoms

to put into

it),

a horse (not like Heartaches,

who

always

complained and had


dle),

a habit of rolling in the

mud

with me
if I

in the sad-

and

to skip the next three birthdays

and get to the magic sixteenth.


country
lived in the city;
in the city.

Later, as

an adult,
I

wished

for a

home
I

in the
for

and when
all

lived in the country,

wished

an apartment

But

Ani

Gomchen

needs

is

the blessing from His Holiness and the holy

words she performs.

82

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Den ma Locho Rinpoche

is

the retired abbot of Namgyal

monastery, the Dalai Lama's monastery.

He

lives in

an apartment on the
attendant showed
I

top floor of the Green Hotel in Dharamsala.


us to a reception

A monk
I

room

off a large patio filled

with well-cared-for plants.


learned,
is

admired Rinpoche's Lhasa Apso dog, whose name,


(Compassion,
in Tibetan) After
.

Champa
to Rin-

some moments, we were escorted

poche's private quarters. Immediately


raised her clasped

upon

entering, Tsering

Choedon
floor,

hands over her head, and instantly she was on the


like a cat

her ponytail tossed overhead

pouncing on a

ball of string.

She

performed these prostrations three times with such simple reverence that
I

was moved almost to

tears.

had never seen such pure devotion.

Denma Locho
child's.

Rinpoche's face was clear and smiling, as open as a


I

His gaze was direct and peaceful.

presented

my katak, which the


sit.

rinpoche draped around


I

my bowed head, and he


still
if

invited us to

explained that
I

was

trying to get a picture of Tibet before the

occupation, and

asked

him

he would

talk

about his early

life.

"

was born

in eastern Tibet, in

Kham.

am

sixty-four years old.


a child for

My
and

mother married when she was eighteen, but did not have
the family a great deal, so they did
years,

many years. This worried


rituals,

many prayers
I

even read the whole Kangyur. After seven


fell

was born.

"The hamlet where I grew up


ing land.

between nomad

territory

and farm-

From

the

nomads we'd get yogurt,

cheese, and meat, then barley

and turnips from the farmers.


looked after the
a yak
fields.

My

father was a trader,

and

my mother

We kept mostly dzos and dzomos, a cross between


the

and

a cow.

We'd get milk from

dzomo and use

the dzo to plough

the

fields.
"I

remember the

pastures

full

of wildflowers in the

summer, and

SANDY JOHNSON

83

watching

my boots turn yellow as


memory
have
is

ran through a

meadow blanketed with


butter lamps coming
family
all

saffron flowers.

'Another

of seeing

many

from one of the big houses nearby and hearing


sad,

my

speaking in

hushed

voices.

experienced a sense of gloom and


just

distress.

The Thir-

teenth Dalai
"I also

Lama had
remember

passed away.

that

when

the weather got very cold, the water

would
take

freeze in the offering bowls out, dislodge the ice,

on the

altar inside the

house.

would

them
stick

which was exactly the shape of the bowl,


a small

then

two of these back to back to make

dhamaru

[ritual

drum]

to play with."

In Tibet,

when

a child

shows highly developed

spiritual gifts or feels

drawn

to ritual objects, this indicates a


life.

deep connection with the dharma


is

from a previous

Called a tulku, that child

then recognized as the

reincarnated lama of a specific monastery and will be raised there, eventually to

become
of ice,

its

abbot. Thus,

when Denma Locho


as a possible tulku.

created a ritual

drum out

he revealed himself

"When I was about six, people began to say that I was a reincarnation of Gen Locho, a well-known scholar from a nearby monastery called Selkhar. This did not please my uncle, who wanted me to become the
leader of the family. Anyway,

when

they

came from
I

the monaster}' to give

me Gen

Locho's robes,

refused to wear them.

went outside and curled


I

up beside our huge mastiff watchdog. Eventually


monk, but not
a in Selkhar.
I

was

initiated as a
I

was sent to Bamchu monastery, where


prayers.

spent

good deal of time memorizing

When
else

was eleven,

my

uncle

told

me

could study in Lhasa.

We set off with a caravan of two hundred


we needed
for

yaks, carrying trade

goods and whatever

our two-

month-long
'At last

journey.
I

was able to

settle in

Drepung monastery and begin studying

84

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Denma Locho

for the

Geshe

degree.

Most

of the student

monks

in the college followed

basically the

same curriculum: introductory


for five years,

topics for

one

year,

the per-

fection of
for the

wisdom
I

then the philosophy of the Middle


in

Way

next two.

lived in a

room

Denma House with an elderly monk


Lhasa, he turned

who had come with me from Kham. As soon as we got to


into a real tyrant,

me memorize my lessons thoroughly and never He would beat me at the slightest provocation, always believing he was doing it for my own good. After he died of pleurisy, continued to persevere at my studies, eventually taking in students of my own. tried to find dedicated, serious stumaking
allowing

me

to miss any classes or debates.

dents

who would

not waste their time or mine.

"In the monastery,

many monks encountered


It

beings that were nonretreat

human, and

had one such experience.

was during a

on the de-

SANDY JOHNSON

8 5

ity

Yamantaka

in the

room

of

my principal

teacher,

Gen Nyima. I had

set-

tled

down

to sleep in the large room, with the skull

cup containing inner


it

offerings in front of
just lay
still

me.

heard footsteps, but since

was pitch black,

and

listened.

Then I heard

the clink of the skull cup cover bereplaced.

ing lifted off and, a minute or two


day, only a little of the tea that

later,

When

looked the next

we used

for the inner offerings

was

left in
I

the cup.
still

never found out


vividly the

who took it

maybe

hungry ghost
I

but

can

remember

sounds and the footsteps as

lay there in the

dark.

"Once,

in Lhasa,

Gen Nyima and I had gone

to a
it

house to perform a was


over,

ritual to insure prosperity.

Gen Nyima left


had gotten on

as

soon as

but

was

slow about going. Just as

my boots, a woman came in, supif I

ported on either

side.

was told that she was possessed and asked

could

do anything

to help her. Usually

when someone
I

is

possessed, they will

scream or rage, but she was quiet.


her

asked the

spirit

who was

possessing

who

it

was, but the spirit refused to answer. I'd heard that spirits can

enter and leave a person's body by way of their ring finger, and that tying
a string

on the

finger prevents the spirits

from escaping. In
it

this way,

you

can trap a
son alone.

spirit in

someone's body and get

to promise to leave the per-

'After

tied a piece of string to the

woman's

finger,

took some white


is

mustard from
substance.
I

my pocket, which, if blessed in Tantric rituals,


it,

a powerful

burned

blowing the smoke

in the

woman's

face.

She beI

gan to
the

shriek, saying that she

was standing

in a

thornbush.

When
from

asked

spirit

who

she was, she answered that she was a

woman

a village

near Drepung.

When

she'd gone to market that morning, she'd


her.

met

this

neighbor

who

wouldn't speak to

Out

of anger, she entered the

woman's body."
I

glanced over at Choedon,

who was

relaying

all

this

without expres-

86

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

sion.

Witchery and possession were

utterly

unremarkable to

her. It

seems

these people of Shambala go flying in and out of each other's bodies by

way

of ring fingers as easily as

we

cross the street.

Rinpoche explained how


others. "I suppose that her

this

was

witch

who went around harming


someone, or
I

body

slept while she inhabited

perhaps she had the power to emit a double. In any case,


her
spirit, it

when

trapped

frightened her very badly, and

made

her promise by the


that she

Palden

Lhamo

(female

dharma

protector) of

Drepung Podrang

would leave

this

neighbor

woman
his

alone."

Rinpoche
a double,

left

me

to

ponder the power of the witch who could emit

and returned to

own

story.

"After receiving my Geshe


College until 1958.

degree,

went onto GyumeTantric

The

discipline there

was very harsh. In summer, we

weren't allowed to wear shoes, although the streets of Lhasa were very
poorly paved.
tered.
I

had

to walk to

my debating sessions, and soon my feet blisstreets

Even the better-paved


time

were very cold in the early morning,


thick skin. Finally,
it
I

and

after a
I

my feet developed a
I

thought of a

so-

lution:

bought some flesh-colored cloth and stuck

to the

bottoms of

my feet without anyone knowing.


but they were ribbed, and
I

considered getting flesh-colored socks,

was afraid someone would notice."


His attendant

He laughed, remembering.
to him.

came

in

and spoke quietly


for

Rinpoche apologized and explained he had to leave

an ap-

pointment.

He would be

glad to continue our talk on another day.

SANDY JOHNSON

8 J

THE SHAMBALA TOUR GUIDE

Over
tel

lunch

of

momo

[Tibetan dumplings] and rice at the Holived outside Tibet half her
herself.
life, if

Tibet,

asked Choedon,

who had

she had ever seen any of these

phenomena

She smiled

brightlv.

"Oh,

yes. In fact,

can take you to meet the rinpoche

who

has been to

Shambala."

We

went to

the

home
is

of

Khamtrul Rinpoche,

who, Choedon explained,

the fourth incarnation of a

scholar and saint from eastern Tibet. Scholar, meditation


teacher,

and

ritual

master of the oldest Buddhist lineage in Tibet,


is

Khamtrul Rinpoche
words

the only holder of the Fifth Dalai Lama's complete

in direct transmission in India todav. in a

He

lives

with his wife and

daughter

house near the temple


in the States

in

Dharamsala. His daughter, who


ex-

had been educated

and seemed remarkablv \\ esternized,

plained this as she showed us to Rinpoche's room. Seated behind a large

desk in front of a window, his head encircled by the light behind him, he

reminded

me of a

Buddhist painting.

"My
tle

real name, my personal name,


is

is

Jamyang Dontrup;
refers

as a

lama

Khamtrul Rinpoche. The kham there

my tito my

monaster); which has


tion, for
"I

kham

in its

name. The

trul

is

for tulku, or incarna-

I'm recognized as an incarnation of a lama of this monastery.


in

was born

an area of eastern Tibet known

as Litang

on Decem-

ber 19, 1927, into a middle-class family of merchants.


in the area

Most

of the families

made
I

their living

through trading rather than farming. At the

age of four,

entered a monastery

known
It

as Litang

Gonchen, which

means the
Lama, and
til

great monastery of Litang.


this
is

was founded by the Third Dalai


I

monastery of the Gelugpa school.

remained there un-

the age of eight.


"In the prophecy of

my birth,

a place

named Ba was mentioned, but


I

because
people

my parents moved

from Ba to Litang when

was very young, the

who searched for the

incarnation in Ba couldn't find me. Since the

prophecy said the search would take a long time, they kept looking. The
abbot of a different monastery

made a

similar prophecy about

my rebirth,

and

said not to look in Ba,


all

but

in Litang.

So the committee went there

and asked to see


were
five of us

the children born in the Year of the Dragon. There


year.

born that

list

was submitted to the search


I

party.

When they met me for the first time,


I

was so happy that they had come,


right, we're glad you're so happy,
tell

went around

singing.

They

told

me,

all

but before we take you away, you have to


the

us

who we

are

and what

are

names

of our horses.

identified each of them, the

men and

their

horses,

and they were

satisfied.

They took me with them.


I

'As a small child,

no matter where

lived,

tried to

go someplace

SANDY JOHNSON

89

else.

Always

at sunrise

and sunset,

would have
life.

a very clear
it

memory of my
rec-

previous monastery and relations in that

So

was no problem to

ognize the
"I

men who came looking for me.


later that

would discover

Tibetans believe the strongest


of three

past-life

memories occur between the ages


begins to fade.

and

five.

After that, the picture

"From the age

of eight

up

to the age of twenty-five,

studied in the

Nyingmapa
ophy. But

tradition, learning their religious rituals, astrology,


I

and

philos-

when

was
I

sixteen,

my mind
many

would frequently become upset

and unbalanced.
help me. Finally,

consulted
I

people, but no one


spiritual guide,

seemed

able to

consulted

my

Jamyang Khyentse
I

Chokyi Lodro, who did


grimage to a sacred
prayers to
"I

a divination. It

was suggested that

make

a pil-

site in

Minyak, eastern Tibet, and

recite

400,000

Padmasambhava.
the pilgrimage, but being young and
lazy,
I

made

recited only half


in a

the prescribed
sacred cave,
I

amount

of prayers. But while

was there meditating

had an amazing dream.


girl

"In this dream, a

of about fifteen or sixteen

more

beautiful
in clothes
girl.

than any

girl

had ever seen

appeared

to

me. She was dressed


a traditional

and ornaments very

different

from those of

Tibetan

She

behaved so seductively toward


dance.
I

me that all

the atoms in

my body began to
I

probably told her


I

all

sorts of things,

although

can't

remember

exactly the words,

was so excited.
visit

When

calmed down

a little, she said


"

to

me,
I

'Brother,

we should

the kingdom of Shambala.'


last
I

leaned forward in rapt attention. At


in the north of Tibet,
I

was hearing firsthand

about the kingdom


I

known

in English as Shangri-la.

searched

my memory for what

had

read: After the

Buddha Sakyamuni
it

gave the Kalachakra tantra to King Suchandra, he took

to the

kingdom

C)0

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

of

Shambala

in

the north and built an inconceivable mansion for the

Kalachakra Buddha.

The

king was followed by seven dharma kings and


all

twenty-one lineage-holders,
all

of

whom guarded these teachings. As with


is

the tantras, the purpose of the Kalachakra practice

to purify the body,

speech, and mind, as well as gradually to release the imprint of the karmic
patterns in our mindstreams.

The

story states that in the future,

when

things look very dark, the warriors of


ers

Shambala

the dharma
forces.

practition-

are to rise

up

as

an army and fight the negative

Khamtrul

me his reaction to the girl's invitation: "When this beautiful girl in my dream said that we could visit there, my first thought was, 'Wow!' Then realized that she had called me Brother, hardly what my excited atoms expected. As her brother, couldn't
Rinpoche told
I I

tell
I

her

how I
'My
tell

really felt
I

about

her, so instead of calling

her Sister in return,


I

said,

friend,

very
I

much want

to go to

Shambala with you, but


there.'
I

have to

you that

have no idea

how to get

"Again she called

me Brother, and
I

said that

didn't have anything to

worry about, that she was there to guide me. Gathering up


asked her

my courage,

how

she

knew who

was. Laughing, she said, 'You fool, don't

you recognize me? Just look straight into

my eyes.'
and on her palms. In

"She showed

me

her seven eyes: two in the ordinary places, one besoles of her feet

tween her brows, two each on the


this way, she revealed to

me

that she was, in fact,

White

Tara.

She

said

that

if I

looked straight into her eyes, this would create conditions for

my
it
I

longevity. Since I'm

now
it

sixty-five,

and

my

predecessors didn't
also told

make
that

past

fifty

or fifty-five,

must have worked. She


I'd

me

wouldn't remain a monk, but that

benefit
of

many

beings and marry a

woman named Dolma


married, but

or Dolka.

None

my

previous incarnations had

when I had

to leave Tibet because of the

Chinese presence,

SANDY JOHNSON

Khamtrul Rinpoche

everything changed.
in order to

It

became necessary
lines.
I

for a

number

of tulkus to

mam

maintain their family


I

gave back

my

monk's vows and

married, but
"I sat

remained

a lama.

My wife's name is Dolka.


girl,
I

on

a white cloth next to this beautiful

and we flashed away.

Being close to her created so


doubts, no conceptions in
ordinary experience.
airplane,
I

much
mind.

bliss that

had no questions, no

my

What

felt

was beyond any kind of

And we went

so fast!

If I

could go that quickly in an

could

visit

New York from

India three times a


like
it

day

"We

flew over a mountain that looked

had

snow

lion

on

it.

'Look, there's the Dergey Printing Press. At the time of vour predecessor,

Pema Lundrup,

was your auntie Tsewang


still

Lhamo and

carved

some

of

the woodblocks, which are


'As

there.'
air in

we

sailed

through the

my

dream-vision,

we saw Mount

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Kailash, then a magnificent range of

snow mountains, and an

area that

looked looked

like a

snake about to catch a frog.

We

also passed a desert that

like a tiger's skin laid

out

flat, as

well as too

many
seem

other places to
to support any

mention, including

a vast barren area that didn't

form of

life at all.

"We continued to fly north


tains that looked like a gigantic

until

we came

to a great circle of
petals.

mountold

open lotus with thirty-two


cities,

She

me

that each petal

had thirty-two
itself

each the

size of

New York.

Fur-

thermore, each city was


altogether, there

surrounded by nine hundred smaller


little

cities;

were almost a million

towns and more than

a thou-

sand great

cities.

The houses themselves were

splendid golden-roofed

palaces decorated with brilliant jewels, tinkling bells,


Just looking at these dwellings gave

and

lovely rainbows.

me

a great feeling of ecstasy.

"The

families in

Shambala each owned large

parks, with

ponds

filled

with scented water, and great wealth, which


ing jewels

came from

their wish-fulfill-

and cows.

No one had
had
are,

to work, for

whatever a person desired


rich

would spontaneously appear. Since everyone was


from sickness and war,
mothers'
nary of
all
I

and

healthy, free

a feeling that they were not

born from their

wombs

like

we

but appeared miraculously. Most extraordiof Shambala, there

was that

in the

kingdom

was no sense of you

and

I,

no competition

or discord, only perfect peace

and harmony.
this
I

"Some
not
all

of the houses were built of light.

From

concluded that
ce-

of the inhabitants of this great place were

humans, but perhaps

lestial

beings or

maybe nagas

[water gods]

Right in the center, in the


all

heart of the

kingdom

of Shambala, ringed

by

of the grand cities, lay the

mansion
it

of the deity Kalachakra, built

by King Suchandra. In the tantras


will

states that the inhabitants of

Shambala
I

subdue the

evil in

the uniall

verse with

bows and

arrows,

and

wondered about that because


in

of
II.

the

destructive

modern weapons

that were developed

World War

When
9 3

SANDY JOHNSON

asked

my companion about this, she said that

should not worry because

whatever destructive methods are created in our world, the counter-agents


will

come

automatically and appear in the kingdom of Shambala.

The

weapons

in

our world, she explained, are created out of various types of

materials, but the antimissile systems of


ful

Shambala have the more power-

nature of exalted wisdom.

"When we
He
the
dissolved

were presented to the king, he was in deep meditation


I

and shone with such radiance that


first

was unable to look

directly at

him.
of

into light, then into a lama,

who

gave

me

number

empowerments. After
girl

that, everything disappeared like a

rainbow except

and myself.

We began to express our love for each other.


my
I

"Then

suddenly, in
it

dream,

found myself back

in

my

cave.

woke up, and

was dawn.
to the

don't

know if dreams
of

are true or real,

but
as

this

dream

of

my

visit

kingdom

Shambala with White Tara

my

guide was very vivid indeed."


I

asked Rinpoche

if

knowing such

a place exists, in a

dream

or in fact,

helps

him

in times of difficulties.

He thought

moment;

his expression

grew

serious.

"The most
Tibet,

difficult period of

my life was when the Chinese invaded


I

making
in 1956,
I

their

unwanted reforms.
I

was twenty-five.

went

to live in

Lhasa
better.

but

kept hoping that the situation would change for the

couldn't go back to

Kham or the monaster)' because the Chinese


in 1959.

were there. The inevitable came with the unsuccessful uprising


Just after His Holiness
left,
I

decided to leave Tibet. Fleeing the country


for
all

was hard not

just for

me, but

Tibetans. But instead of challenging


it

my faith,
"I

these experiences have

made

stronger.

have no specific feeling about the Chinese today. The people were
It

under orders to invade our country.


ers'

wasn't their fault;

it

was their leadChinese,

ignorance.

They thought

it

was good

for the future of the

9 4

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

but that
people.

is

wrong thinking. For such ignorance

feel

bad

for the

Chinese

"Throughout the world,


all

anger, desire,

and ignorance
I

are the roots of

suffering,

whether among Chinese or Tibetans.

wish that these poi-

sons could be banished from the world.

emies and love only for his neighbors


understand the importance of
this,

will

A person who has anger for his enultimately suffer. We all should
in religion or not."

whether we believe

The interview had come to an end. Just as


he would do a divination on behalf of a
as
if

was unplugging the


if

microphone and putting away the earphones, Choedon asked Rinpoche


friend.

She asked
a

matter-of-factly,

she were requesting nothing


as easily.

more unusual than

cup

of tea,
all

and Rinthe high-

poche complied

My mind automatically
as

flashed to

priced psychics in the States.


I

watched with fascination


first

Rinpoche took three dice out of

a silver
table.

box and,

concentrating a few moments, threw


the answer, and she thanked him.
if

them onto the

He

gave
I

Choedon

asked Rinpoche
I

he would mind explaining the

art of divination.

He nodded, and

hurriedly took out the tape recorder again.

"Both the diviner and the person seeking advice must have pure motivation.

Together they both must pray to the Buddha, the Dharma, and

the spiritual community; their Root Lamas; their deities; and


tectors, especially

dharma

pro-

Palden Lhamo, for a clear answer.

personally visualize
call

myself as

my
I

personal deity, Dorje Shonu, or Vajra Kilaya, then

on
it

Palden Lhamo.
again until

Then I throw the

dice. If the

answer

is

not

clear,

throw

am certain
said

of the answer."

Rinpoche
you
like

something to Choedon, who turned to me. "Would


a divination for you?" she asked.
I

Rinpoche to do

felt

my face red-

den, flustered by

my eagerness.

"Yes.

Thank

you."

SANDY JOHNSON

9 5

"On what

subject?" she asked.

"Primarily on the state of


ture."

my health
I

now and
my
a

in the forseeable fu-

Rinpoche nodded,

listening.

held

breath as he closed his eyes

and mentally asked the question. He then threw the dice and studied
them. "The
illness

you were stricken with

few years ago

will

not return,"

he

said.
I

"You are

fine."
I

smiled, so pleased with the answer that


I'd

forgot for a

moment

to

wonder how he knew

had an

illness.

Then he added, "But you must


suffer a loss."
franti-

take care of your things properly or you


I

may

stared at him.

had spent the better part of the afternoon

cally searching for


trip, lists

my notebook, which contained my entire journal of the


had lunch
at the

of interviews, addresses. I'd

Hotel Tibet with

Father Bob, an Episcopal priest from Chicago,


sala for

who had come to Dharamstaving at the

an audience with the Dalai Lama.

We were

same

hotel

and had walked back

together, stopping at the bus station to con-

firm

mv reservation for the


It

following dav.
I

was not until

was about to leave to meet Choedon that


I

realized

my notebook was
all

missing.

ran to find Father Bob. For the next hour

we

retraced our steps; with each passing

minute

grew more

frantic.

We had
I

but given up, when

decided to look a second time


just as
I

in the restaurant.

questioned the waiter again. Then,


to have another look at the table

was about to

leave,

decided

where we had been


I

sitting.

There was the

notebook, on a chair! Impossible.


Father Bob.

had already searched

there,

and so had

Khamtrul Rinpoche suggested

go to the temple and make an

offer-

ing to Mahakali and ask for her protection.


there.
I

Choedon

said she'd take

me

thanked Khamtrul Rinpoche.


will

'And vou

marrv again," he said when

was almost out the door

9 6

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"What""

He laughed and

said,

"Go make your

offering now."

Choedon
elderly,

and

walked up the

hill

past a stream of people, mostly

who were circumambulating


this seyeral

the temple. She told

me many

of

them do
an old

times a day, no matter what the weather.


so bent oyer that her

We passed

woman who walked

head nearly touched the

ground. "Or no matter what their health."


Inside the temple,
stands, fierce

Choedon took me

to the
is

room where Mahakali


form of Tara.
I

and blue, and explained that she

a wrathful

"Wrathful does not

mean
and

angry;

it

means strong and

protective."

placed

my

offering of rupees

a white silk scarf at Mahakali's feet,

and asked

that she fayor

me with her strength and

protection.

SANDY JOHNSON

9 J

THE TALKING FROG

Once back to my

again,

Choedon

and

separated for the day, and

walked

hotel alone, past

monks

in

twos and threes headed to the


sitar

monaster}; perhaps for dinner; past the beggar, with his

and

his

dancI

ing marionettes; past the shopkeepers folding their shutters; and

thought:

Do

want to marry again?

It

was
real

a disturbing thought.

had

walked away from the only

marriage

I'd

had. After that,

my relationships were from my chaos, and


unawakened mind
a
little

mutual rescue missions: You save


save you from your
politics or

me
for

I'll

your

or even your
as

unhappy marriage. And


if

while,

it

would seem

we had found

refuge in

each other. But then, when the illusion faded, we'd both

feel betraved,

hoodwinked.

Is it

possible

I still

could get

it

right?

"

Have yo u heard
his

the one about the talking frog?"

asked Father
I

Bob,

who was on

way

to the patio to

watch the sunset.

joined him,

and we ordered beers. 'A woman


voice call out, 'Hello!

is

walking in the woods

when she

hears a

You

there!

If

you

kiss

me,

I'll

turn into your Prince

Charming/ The woman


ding,'
it

looks

down and

sees a frog. 'Really, I'm not kid-

says.

Doubtful, the
sorry.
I

woman

walks on.
It's I

The

frog leaps after her.

'Please,

you won't be

promise.

you've been waiting for your

whole

life.'

"Finallv she

bends down, picks him up, and tucks him into her

pocket. 'Hey, wait!

You forgot to

kiss

me!'

The woman

takes

him out

of

her pocket and looks at


she says,
'I

him

for several

moments. 'On second thought,'


"

think

prefer a talking frog.'


"Is that

Father Bob threw his head back and laughed, then asked,

your position on prince charmings?"


I

told

him about Khamtrul Rinpoche and


said

the divination. "If I'm to

believe

what he

about

my health,

don't

also

have to accept his div-

ination about marriage?"


"I

would think

so.

Why? Don't you ever want to marry again? Aren't


answered.
is

you ever lonely?"


"I

never give myself time to be,"


told

He
lasting.

me

about his own marriage, which


I

strong and steady and

For a

moment

felt

cheated.

My peregrine nature has denied me

that.

We watched the sun begin its descent behind the mountain. A hawk
wheeled out of the north and swept down into the shadows,
wings catching the
light,
its

great

and dived

invisibly into a ravine.

SANDY JOHNSON

9 9

NOMADIC LIFE

Not
of sheep
large,

all Tibetans

live in

towns or monasteries; Tibet's

original

inhabitants were

nomads

living in high,

open country, grazing

their herds

and yak between winter and summer pastures. They

lived in

low-slung tents
to trade

made

of yak hide,

and traveled to the lowlands only

meat and

cheese.

They spoke

their

own

dialect

and

dressed in fleece-lined robes,

charm boxes

at their

necks

and long swords


Although
I

at their waists.

would not meet Namtak Yundung and


is

his

family until later in Switzerland, he

so

much

a part of old

Tibet that

include his story here.

"I
area of

come from
it

a family in western Tibet near

Mount

Kailash, an

nomads who lived and

traveled in groups. I'm not sure of the exact

year

was born, but

would be sometime around 1934.

When

was

five

cars old,

my mother died. had two


I

sisters

and four brothers. Eight


across

of us

lived in

one

large tent

about twenty meters


My
father slept

made

of yak hide.

"In the middle of the tent was the fireplace, a sort of iron grate big

enough

to hold

two

pots.

At night, we'd sleep around the edges of the

tent, close to the walls.

on a mattress made out of the

thick fur of an animal


a goat.

we

don't have in Switzerland. Sort of an antelope or

The

rest of

us slept on cloth sheets with fur coverings.


for drainage

On the floor
keep

were Tibetan carpets. We'd dig holes


rugs wouldn't get wet.

when

it

rained so the

At night, two people would

stay outside to

watch over the sheep, to make sure they weren't harmed by wild animals
or stolen

by

thieves.

The

thieves didn't belong to any group.

They were

more like roaming

pirates

and would

steal

an animal whenever they could.

"Our

diet consisted mainly of tsampa, yogurt

and dry cheese from

goat's milk, yak meat,

and

goat.

And

lots of butter tea.

Then

at Losar

we
al-

drank beer or chang.

We

didn't

grow our food; we

lived like

nomads

ways have, on products from the animals.

"Once

a year in the spring, as

many

as seventy families

would come

together to decide
mals.

who would go where

in the region to graze their ani-

The

decision was based

upon how many animals


to go quite far

in the

herd and

how

big the family.

Some had

away to the north. These


ran into trouble."

groups would always help one another

when anyone

Up until this point, most of the people I had met centered their lives
around monasteries and temples.
I

wondered whether the nomadic comlife,

munities ever got to experience spirituality and monastic


stantly

being con-

on the move.
are quite religious.

"Nomads

We

do

practices

and pujas

daily.

used to invite lamas from the regions to


killed only old

visit

us and give teachings.

We We

animals

who were too weak to follow the herds. But nomads


It

did not normally learn to read or write.

was believed that reading caused

SANDY JOHNSON

too

much

stress

on the

eyes. If

someone wanted

to learn to read or write,

they had to go to the monasteries.


later

My friend Tenzin

Dolma, who would

become my
we

wife,

and

learned to read in the backyard.

My

sister,

who had
sheep
all

learned in an abbev, taught us. Since


day,

we had

to

work with the

studied at night.
I

"By the time


with

reached seventeen,

wanted

to

do something more
I

my

life,
I

so,

without asking
as a

my

family's permission,

went

to a

monastery.

was ordained

monk

at a

Bonpo [pre-Buddhist

animistic
old.

tradition] monastery,

which was more than two thousand years

"In the monastery,


that the Chinese

my

lama had been having

visions for ten years

would invade.

When we got the news that


it."

they had in-

vaded Lhasa, the lama already knew

Namtak showed me
about the mystical Bonpo

a picture of his

Bonpo lama wearing


I

a yellow
tell

pointed hat and a yellow-and-red robe.


religion,

When

asked

him

to

me

which predates Buddhism

in Tibet,

Namtak seemed

reluctant.

"My lama knew many shamanic practices, but he was


ing

against teach-

them because manv

of the rituals involved killing.

My main

teaching

was Nyingma."

"When did you decide not to be a monk?" gave back my vows and married. "I was a monk for five years. Then Her family was much bigger than my own. Thev had two or three tents, as opposed to my family's one, and more than a thousand sheep, twelve yaks,
I

seventeen horses, and

many dangerous dogs

that were bigger than sheep.

These long-haired dogs would herd the sheep and protect them from
thieves

and wild animals. Very aggressive


any

in nature, the

dogs were more

ef-

fective than

human when

it

came

to protecting the herds.


I

"We decided to leave Tibet because when the Chinese came,


not practice anymore. More and more
I

could
as the

saw lamas leave the country

10

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

situation got worse.

Even though we

didn't have any direct contact with

the Chinese, I'd heard

many

stories of the things they

were doing. Also,

had an

instinctive feeling that the

Chinese were bad

for Tibet.

"Five of us started to escape together in 1962.

which we used

as

pack animals, while we

We had a few horses, ourselves traveled by foot. We


down
the mountain

wanted
slip

to go over

Nede

pass,

but

after the first day, the horses started to

backward on the
it.

icy track, so

we had

to go back
It

and walk around

It

was very hard going.


district.
first

took us eight days to reach

the border of India, near the Upi

At the border were three checkone because none of us had


a

We couldn't passport. We had to


points.

go through the
fill

out papers saying

who we were and

wait for pass-

ports to be issued.

These we took

to the second checkpoint.

But the Dalai

Lama hadn't
ers

arrived yet in

Dharamsala to negotiate with the Indian leadFinally,

about the flood of Tibetan refugees coming into the country.

after

two months, we received permission to

cross into India.

"We
the Dalai
tries,

were sent

first

to a region called Puri Bopaka, where, because

Lama had

organized support from the

USSR

and other coun-

many Tibetan
years.

refugees

had

settled.

We lived in the camp about one


He made
the whole journey

or

two

Our son was born

there in 1963.

in his

mother's

womb.

That's

why he

looks so strong!

My

wife

had no

problems during our escape, and she gave birth

in a hospital.

She'd never

been

in a hospital before.

She found

it

wonderful, a great experience.

'A year later

we were

sent south to Orissa, where


it

we found

house
as no-

with a

little bit

of land

and began farming. But

was so hot, and

mads we knew nothing about farming,


Orissa and went
places,
last

so this didn't really work.

We left

on

a pilgrimage to

Bodh Gaya,

Benares, and other holy

and

finally

up

to the north.

We went by train to Manali, using the


many other Tibetans,

money we

had.

We were relieved to be in high altitudes again, out of


I

the heat.

My wife and

were put to work, along with

SANDY JOHNSON

Namtak Yundung and Wife

building roads.

My wife worked with the baby strapped to her back. It was


all

hard, but from the time of our escape,

during the stay in India, we

didn't have time to think of anything except


riod in our lives,

how

to get through this pe-

how
we

to survive.

that was barely

enough

to eat on.

We worked for three rupees a day, and We had to repair our trousers nine or
new ones.
Red Cross from Switzerland would
which ones wanted to emigrate.
of the families were too big

ten times because

couldn't afford to buv


in Manali, the

"While we were

come and
Most

talk to different families to see

of the families

wanted

to go, but

many

to be taken to Switzerland.

We were only fourmy wife and son and his


But
I

younger
our
the

sister,

who was

sick.

told

them we
later,

couldn't travel because of

little girl.

In time, she died;

two years
agreed.
I

another was born.


at first

When
I'd

Red Cross asked us

again,

we

was hesitant

because

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN

E L D E

heard that

in

Switzerland

we

couldn't practice Buddhism, that

wc could

do only Christian
I

practices.

But that turned out to be untrue."


felt

asked

Namtak Yundung how he

about being so

far

away from

his

homeland.

"Our family

is

very

happy

living in Switzerland.

We have everything
like all

we need. Of course, I would


Tibetans,
I

like to

be buried
free.

in
I

Tibetan earth, and

would

like

my country to be
[in

can show you a text where

Padmasambhava prophesied

the eighth century] that the Chinese


flee.

would invade Tibet and the people would have to


say anything directly

The

text doesn't
it

about the people returning to their country, but

does say that

if

the Nepalese and Chinese begin to have conflicts, then


getting their country back. ReI

Tibet can
cently

become more hopeful about

we heard

that the monastery where

had studied, which the Chi-

nese destroyed, has been rebuilt.

"We are very happy also that people around the world have been exposed to Buddhism through our refugees. Our one concern, though,
that the younger generation of Tibetans does not
in
is

seem

to be as interested
in Tibet.
elders.

Buddhism

as they

would have been had they grown up


profound path of our

We're

afraid that they won't continue the

A whole

new

generation of Tibetans

is

getting teachings from Western lamas


is

rather than Tibetan lamas. This

depressing.

"On
study

the other hand,

my

wife,

who

never had

much

of a chance to
to hear

Buddhism when we

lived in Tibet, has

had the opportunity

many
main

teachings and to do intensive practice here in Switzerland. Her


practice
is

not to harm other beings, and to avoid negativity in

thoughts and action; and


all

my goal is to have a better rebirth for myself and

sentient beings and, eventually, to reach enlightenment.


all

My

wish

is

that

people

who are

able to read

would read about Buddhism

and think

positively

about the future of Tibet."

SANDY JOHNSON

O 5

That evening,
wonder these people
belong in the

as

sat writing in

my journal,

thought,

Is it

any

fell

prey to the Chinese

Communists? They

don't

real world,

God

help us, they belong to another time, to

Shambala.
I

made

a stab at meditating.

Over the years

had

tried various tech-

niques learned mainly from books, and

my

success had been hit-or-miss.


I

Then, on Indian reservations


control
trate or
I

in sweat-lodge ceremonies,
It

was forced to

my mind

to survive the excruciating heat.

was either concen-

be cooked.

sat cross-legged

on the

floor

and quieted
it

my

mind. But very soon


for Delhi-

my sick stomach took over. My mind,


belly.

seemed, was no match

06

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

MEDICINE AND

ASTROLOGY

Jam pa Kelsang teaches


icine

astrology at the the Institute for


his

Medin-

and Astrology.

had been given

name

as a translator for

my

terviews with the two doctors


as a fellow teacher,

and the astrology professor I had scheduled;

Kelsang would be more familiar with the terms.

My first
I

interview was with Dr. Tenzin Choedrak, the

Dalai Lama's personal physician. Delhi-belly had worsened;


told Kelsang-la
I

had better cancel


it.

my

appointment. But

Kelsang-la wouldn't hear of

"What

better place to take

your sick stomach than to the greatest doctor in the world!"

John Avedon wrote extensively about Dr. Tenzin Choedrak

in his

book In

Exile from the

Land of Snows. He had

survived twenty-one years of

beatings and torture and starvation in a Chinese prison, using advanced

methods

of Tantric meditation

and

visualization.

My experience with crit-

ical illness

had given

me some

understanding of the enormous power of

the

spirit.

had witnessed with

my own eyes a woman's malignant tumor

"miraculously" cured
believe

later

documented

in a

peyote ceremony; and

my own recovery was profoundly helped by healing techniques taught to me by Native American medicine men and women.
So with considerable
curiosity

and

a very sick

stomach

was

taken to see Dr. Tenzin Choedrak.

Dr. Tenzin Choedrak


seventeen, one of only
fifty

entered the Lhasa Medical Institute at

students, where he studied for thirteen years.


to the study of medicinal formulation, a diffi-

He also devoted eight years


In 1953 Dr.

cult field of science taught only to selected students.

Choedrak was appointed senior personal physician

to the

Dalai Lama's mother; following the Dalai Lama's flight to India, he was

imprisoned
1980.

in his

own country by

the Chinese for twenty-one years, until

Two

years later, the doctor

was able to go to India, where he became


joined the Tibetan Medical Institute in

physician to the Dalai

Lama and

Dharamsala

as chief

medical officer and head of the research department.

Since 1984, Dr. Choedrak has been involved in research programs with

Harvard Medical School and has participated

in conferences

on global

health throughout Europe and the United States.

Dr. Choedrak's office

is

across the square

from the

large

building that houses the Institute of Tibetan Medicine and Astrology.

We

entered through a narrow, curtained doorway to an office at the end of the


hall.

The doctor
looked up,
I

sat at his desk, his

head lowered over papers. WTien he


It

was suddenly staring into the tragedy of Tibet.


face, the

was written

on the doctor's

twenty-one years of beatings, torture, and starva-

O 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Hon

in a

maximum-security Chinese

prison. His left eye

was damaged

during one of those prolonged beatings, the retina detached, the eyeball

knocked into the upper


But
it

left side of its socket.

was also the face of a

man

who, when he was released from

prison and stood on the red line that marks the border on the Nepal-

Chinese Friendship bridge, turned and shouted,


can go to
hell!"

"Now

all

you Chinese

We were about to begin the interview, when


the doctor that
I

Kelsang-la explained to

had

a "very

bad stomach." Immediately the doctor


"I press

reached for

my right arm and placed three fingers on my wrist.


first finger,"

the

skin with the

he explained, "the

flesh with the second,

and the

third
sions,

press just hard

enough

to feel the bone.

Each

finger has twelve divi-

each of which reads the pulse that corresponds to a particular organ."


at

Then he looked

my tongue. He told me I had a microbial infection


gold,
silver,

that could easily be cured by "precious pills," which detoxify the blood.

Precious

pills are

made from

and jewels that

first

have been

boiled with certain plants, then ground into powder and dried in a cool
place away from sunlight.
of the eighth Tibetan
I

The powder is then mixed under the


into
pills.

full

moon

month and made

told the doctor about

my

bout with cancer and asked

if

Tibetan

medicine had a different understanding of the disease than Western medicine's.

"There
a cure,

is

not a different understanding,


difficult to find

it is

the same.
I

We can't find
feel that these

and

it is

an effective treatment.

am familiar with
have a powerin

radiation

and chemotherapy
are

as a

treatment for cancer, and


are negative in that they
I

methods
ful effect

good

in

one way, but

on the blood, so you get weak.


cancer.

found some patients


it

France

who had

When

gave

them Tibetan medicine,

helped to

strengthen their blood."

SANDY JOHNSON

Dr. Teniin

Choedrak

Dr.

Choedrak then proceeded

to give

me

a brief explanation of the

history of Tibetan medicine.

"Tibetan medicine

is

2,500 years old. In the

Bonpo

tradition, a
a.d.,

famous teacher taught medicine near the time of the Buddha. In 253

an Indian sage came to Tibet and taught his medical system, which was
then practiced by a single family

who were

part of the royal Tibetan court.


this

Around the
from
Iran,

sixth century, another


his

famous medical scholar came,

time

and taught

system in Tibet.

Then between

the seventh and

eighth centuries, the Tibetan king Trisong Detson, and the Tibetan father
of medicine,

Yuthok Yonten Gonpo, organized the

first

medical confer-

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

ence and invited

many

doctors from Persia, India, Kashmir, Nepal, and

other neighboring countries like Mongolia and China to participate.

They

held this meeting in a place in Tibet called Samye.


scholars talked about their

The

different medical
a very impor-

own

specialties.

They compiled
first

tant textbook at that time

and established Tibet's

medical college,

Melung, or Country of Medicine.

"Then

in the

tenth century, another burst of medical energy ap-

peared, producing a major medical textbook, which listed 2,243 different

medicinal plants and classified diseases into 1,600 categories. At that


time, the question arose about what would

happen

in the future. It

was

prophesied that in the coming time there would be a great change, the

coming

of industry,

which would

result in pollution of the

air,

water,

and

environment; and that eighteen different diseases would appear. People

would find

it

impossible to maintain their diets and behaviors properly

during that period.

"Our

era

seems to be the time prophesied. So many chemicals

are

used now, and people often have negative reactions to them.

"Our medical
sons.

text has classified almost 1,000 different types of poi-

There

are various animal poisons, like those carried


as

by snakes or

dogs;

and plant poisons,

when one touches

certain plants

and the hand


is

develops a rash. Another type occurs


self

when one

eats food that

not in

it-

poisonous but,

when not
there
is

digested properly, transforms into poison in


is

the stomach.

Then

a kind of poison that

external, often in the


in the

form of vapors or gases, and sometimes transmitted


that

atmosphere

comes down from the

sun.
I

"When

visited Russia,

learned about

many gas

poisons. There are


result-

600,000 people suffering in Russia due to gas or chemical poisons


ing from the Chernobyl disaster.
I

treated

many

people there

who were

working as

officials at that

time, survivors

who suffered poisonous disease.

SANDY JOHNSON

III

All of
cine.

my

twenty-four patients were completely cured by Tibetan mediso well that they

Our system worked


though there
is

hope

to create a branch clinic in

Russia,

problem

in getting the proper

medicine

there.

am formulating the crucial medicine here, but it is very expensive. The ingredients call for gold and several ground-up jewels, including emeralds,
rubies,
I

and diamonds."

had read

of the complexity of the Tibetan system of medicine.


all

To

understand

how

of the interrelated parts

fit

together, students at
Illustrated Tree of

Mentsikhang (Medicine House) have to study the

Medicine, which has three roots, nine trunks, forty-two branches, two

hundred twenty-four
this

leaves, three fruits,

and two

flowers. After learning

diagram, they are taught

how to associate

the appropriate chapters of

the tantras with different parts of the tree, and then go on to study each
root, branch,

and so

on.

Buddha explained

in the first, or
all

Root Tantra, that


beings.
I

three

humors

control the physical condition of

human

read

that the three


like chi) bile,

humors

of the

body

are lung (or subtle energy,

something

and phlegm, and I asked

Dr.

Choedak to describe the system

tome.
"Subtle energy accounts for the

movement

of the body, bile for

warmth, and phlegm


three
sults.

for flexibility.

There

are five types of

each of these
re-

humors

in the body,

and

if

they get out of balance, then sickness

The movable

part of the

bodv

is

controlled bv lung, sometimes


to bile; the fluid or

translated as wind; the heat part of the

body responds

water\ factor in the body


r

is

phlegm. These three we

classify,

when we want
we need
to
to

to analyze or study, into a

hundred

different types.

If still

deepen the

analysis,

we go up

to sixteen

hundred subtypes. So you have

study many,
"If

many years.
is

the heat part of the body


If

excessive, then

you get fever or your


starts shivering,

body

gets hot.

there

is

too

little

warmth, then your body

12

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

gets cold.

Phlegm

is

by nature

like

the water element. So

if

you have
heat,

a dis-

order of phlegm, usually such a person doesn't have


extremities or the

enough

and the

abdomen

get cold.

"You can recognize lung energy by movement.

When you open your


parts of the body, this

mouth,
is

close your eyes, operate any of the

movable

due

to healthful lung energy.

Lung functions

like

an

electric current

which vou connect so something can move. Healthful lung energy pushes
the blood and gets
a very easy
it

circulating throughout your body. This

is,

in general,
it

way

to understand lung, although in further study

gets very

complicated.

"Lung
the

is

also intricately

connected with the mind. Disturbance

in

mind

affects

lung

activity,

and disturbance

of lung affects the mind.

When you have a problem in the mind, like unhappiness, if you are frightened, then your heart starts to beat very
body.
fast.

That

is

lung affecting the

"When
fat

a person eats too

much
so

beef, the blood gets very thick,

and
is

forms

in the body.

Then

the passage through which the lung energy


it

moving becomes very narrow,


has the effect of slowing
plexions.

can't circulate properly. Alcohol also

down

the blood. These people have reddish

com-

"When
suffer

people

become

obese, their blood grows stagnant and they

from shortness of breath. You won't find


fat.

much

blood in their

sys-

tems, mostly
this

We call

these people phlegm-character persons.


it

When
a per-

kind of person eats something,

goes into body

fat,

not toward body

energy.

As

consequence, he or she

isn't

very energetic. Often


is

when

son

is

obese, the color of his complexion

very pale.

"Many

of our health problems, in short,

stem from our

diets.

The

stomach can be divided into four

categories. Ideally,

one part should be


is

empty, one should be liquid, two parts should have food. 'This

the cor-

SANDY JOHNSON

113

rect pattern of diet to help us digest


pecially,

and get more

energy. In the

West

es-

many people

eat raw foods, like vegetables

and cheese, which

can't

be digested

properly.

"Now we come to bile energy,


tion. If bile
is

the main energy that helps with digesIf

out of balance, then one has a digestive problem.

that en-

ergy works properly, then you have

good

digestion. Usually, the person


bile
is

with healthy energies

will

have normal body heat. The

the factor

re-

sponsible for body heat.

"The body's
is

fluid or liquid part


flexible.
If

is

phlegm.

If

the phlegm proportion

normal, the joints are

A correct proportion of pleghm also helps


is

with the stability of mind.


fever;
if

there

too

much phlegm, you


This
is

develop a

there

is

too

little,

you begin to

shiver.

a simplified explana-

tion of phlegm, of course."

He

told

me

that surgery, including brain surgery, was once a widely-

practiced art in Tibet, that they had developed

many surgical implements

and methods of anesthesia. But when the mother of King Muni Tsenpo
died after an operation to lessen the water around her heart, surgery was
officially

banned. The operation had damaged her heart chakra so badly


all

that

it

impeded her death, because

energy gathers at the heart level be-

fore consciousness leaves the body. Dr.

Choedrak

cited a reference to an

ancient textbook that talked about surgery.


tors believe in surgery

He added

that Tibetan doc-

now, but lack

much

specific

knowledge.

In addition to
tors
at

humors and an

elaborate pharmacology, Tibetan doc-

must

learn also

how to

read pulses, which takes a whole year of study


is

Mentsikhang. The most effective place to take the pulse


is

on the
is

wrist,

just over the radial artery. If the patient


first,

female, the right pulse


for

taken

then the

left;

the reverse order

is

used

men. The doctor

presses

the middle three fingers of each hand on the flesh and bone of the patient.

Each

finger monitors "inner"

and "outer" pulses

hollow organs

14

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

being read as the "outer" and solid ones as the "inner"


pulses are taken altogether.

thus twelve

These

relay information

about the conditions

of a patient's organs. For example, with his right index finger, the doctor

monitors the heart of a male patient; with his


der
is

left,

the lungs. Again, the orthe "constitutional


or

reversed for

women. The doctor also determines

pulse" of a patient
bile

whether he

or she

is

dominated by wind, phlegm,


weather also affects the

as well as the "seasonal pulse," since the

or-

gans.

Through an
clude
in the
if

analysis of the pulses, the doctor then


is

is

able to con-

the illness

"hot" or "cold," after which the state of the humors

body can be

investigated.

Each humor

and

there are five varia-

tions of each of the three

humors

has

a characteristic pulse.

The

pulses
is

for various conditions also are taken.

The pregnancy

pulse, for instance,

soon apparent, and

after six

weeks

the

sex of the child can be deter-

mined. Descriptions of the various types of pulses range from "limping"

and "quivering" to
grain."

"like a vulture attacking a bird" or "like a

hen eating

Imminent death

also

may be diagnosed through


several rare

pulse reading.

Although the Chinese burned


ical texts

but

critical

Tibetan medin-

during the Cultural Revolution, they have recently shown an

terest in the value of preserving

Tibetan medicine.

Within three hours


pill,

of taking the

first

incredibly bitter-tasting
water,
I

which must be
I

partlv

chewed then swallowed with hot

was

symptom-free.

returned the following day to learn about the role of as-

trology in Tibetan medicine.

Tibetan medicine and astrology


as the

are as inextricably linked

mind and bodv. Thev are taught

in

conjunction with each other. Al-

though astrology students

are not required to study medicine, medical

SANDY JOHNSON

students must study the astrological sciences. Unlike European astrology,

which describes the personality based on the natal


horoscopes chart the unfolding of a person's
lated
life.

situation,
life

Tibetan
is

The

span

calcu-

and divided into nine periods, each ruled by one of the heavenly
Each period
is

bodies.
chart,

interpreted in relation to
it

its

ruling planet, the natal

and the age

at

which

occurs.
life

Four major themes appear in the Tibetan horoscope:


all all

span, over-

bodily and physical condition, economic and political power, and over-

luck in business or career. Astrological calculations are always

made

for

marriages and births. Astrologers also forecast the general welfare of the
country.

Physicians consult medical astrology


of the

when determining the best day

week

for treatments

such as moxabustion or gold needle acupunc-

ture, for a patient.

The

patient's life-force

and

life-spirit

days are deter-

mined from

their natal animal sign.

Most Tibetans wish

to

know the time of their death,

so that they can


life

prepare for a good rebirth. However, even though a person's

span can

be calculated, one's
person's
life

life

can be extended with prayer and good deeds.


as

also

can be shortened by such external events


if

earthquake

or war or a terminal illness


survive such events.

one does not have the karmic potential to


for star
is

The Tibetan word

karma; one's karma

is

written in the

stars.

As
ney,
I

seemed

to be sampling morsels of Tibetan culture

on

this jour-

willingly agreed to

have

my
I

astrological chart

done by Jampa

Kel-

sang.

The two

charts I'd

had done over the years were


learned that
I

interesting but for

the most part unimpressive. Here

have a windy and phleg-

matic nature; that


that
I

promote

frequent changes of feeling


ideas.

and

residence(!);

love to

meet new people and exchange

My weakness could be
I

impatience, and

my life could "end up with

poison, so always be aware";

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

use lots of

money

unnecessarily;

and

am

advised to control

my

temper;

overcame many obstacles, separated from partners, and


danger
(all

my health was

in

dates were correct), but

am coming now

into a time of great


chil-

peace and happiness. Jampa Kelsang also told me, "You have good
dren

who

are dear to you, with upbringings free of problems,

who are

sup-

portive of your work.

You have

much

better and closer relationship


(this to

toward your maternal side than paternal side"


girl

the original daddy's


in store

although

had no way

of

knowing then what the planets had

forme).

On the whole the reading was surprisingly accurate. requested that he not give me the date of my death, lest wake up on that day and be litI I

erally frightened to death.

Jampa Kelsang

didn't,

but the chart does come


of seventy-four. We'll

to a rather abrupt
see.
. .

end somewhere around the age

Later, over a lunch


Tibet,
I

of spicy noodles

and tukpa

at the

Hotel

began

my interview with
in

Professor

Dakthun Jampa Gyeltsen.

"I

was born

1939

in Lhasa.
I

My father was district governor and


my
middle school educa-

had
tion,

to travel a great deal, so after

completed

my parents invited teachers to our home to tutor me in the studies of


and grammar. In order
a special university.

astrology, poetry,

to study for the higher science of

astrology,

went to
village

"Our

was close to the border with Bhutan. After the Chinese


I

invaded in 1959, each time

went out to

care for the animals,

began to

study the shortcuts and got to


I

know

all

of the passages for

the time when

would make

my

escape.

had done the

astrological calculations to deIf

termine

when

the most auspicious time to leave would be.


will

a Tibetan

cannot begin a journey on an auspicious date, he

often take a small

SANDY JOHNSON

piece of luggage and

move

it

a little

down

the road so as to begin the jour-

ney symbolically on that


"I left

day.

Tibet in

December

1960.

waited
I

till

dark, then
all

strapped

my

luggage to

my

back and started walking.


all

walked

night to the top of

the mountain, and


"In Bhutan
I

the next day to the Bhutan border.


office of His Holiness the Dalai

was appointed to the

Lama, where

served until 1967,

when I came

to Dharamsala.

When
I

the

Tibetan Institute of Medical and Astrological Sciences was formed,


pleted

com-

my studies,

and

am now teaching.
earth, metal,

"Tibetan astrology and medicine are based on the same concept of


five

elements:

Wood,

fire,

and

water.

We believe that all vis-

ible objects are


five

composed

of these five elements.

Even the wind contains

elements.

"These
verse: the

five

elements are related to the external elements of the unifire

water you drink, the

you use

for cooking, the earth


see.

on which

we

live,

the metal

we use

for

chopping, the trees you

"In our bodies, muscles are the

wood element; blood and


is

fluids are

the water element; heat

is

the

fire

element; the flesh


the liver

the earth element; the

the bones are metal. As for our the heart,


fire

vital organs,

is

wood element;

element; the lung, metal; spleen, earth element; kidneys,

water element.

When a Tibetan doctor makes a diagnosis


a disorder of the

of a

weak

liver,

he says there

is

wood element. At

the same time,

when

Tibetan astrologer makes a calculation and finds an imbalance

in the
as-

wood element, he
trologer

says there

is

problem

in the liver.

Thus,

Tibetan

makes diagnoses according

to his astrological calculations,

and

Tibetan doctor reads pulses but also thinks about the patient's animal
sign,

when he was

born, and so forth.

"Astrologers are also consulted before marriages are arranged, to

make

sure the combination

is

good.

We consider the

situation from four

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

different angles. First,

we

look at the couple's

life

span; second, their

health; third, their financial status;


ally,

and fourth,

their success. Tradition-

the husband has to go out and find food for the family. So for him, his

life

span and success are very important.


is

The mother has

to give birth, so

her health

very important, plus she'll have to take care of the financial


is

situation, so that aspect

significant in her chart as well.

So we compare

these four different aspects in each of them, and calculate their compatibility.

"If for

example we find the man's success

is

unfavorable,

we might

suggest to
day.

him he wear an amulet, which we make according


is

to his birth-

Or

if

the woman's health situation

unfavorable,

we would make an we have

amulet

for her. In

some

cases, the aspects are so unfavorable that

to say, stop, a marriage

would not be good, there

will

be too many prob-

lems."
I

wanted to know
if

if

those already married would consult the as-

trologer

they

felt

the marriage wasn't working.

Would they come to find

out

if

they should part?

"I

have found

this

problem

in this

modern time more and more.

There
ried

are couples
first

who

are very

much
So

in love,

who go ahead and

get mar-

without

consulting an astrologer. Then, after they have a prob-

lem, they

come

to

me

for help.

draw up

their charts to find the area

where they

are having the problem,


for

and according to the problem, we


to

make an amulet
tain text to free

them

or ask

them

do

a certain puja or to read a cer-

them from

their obstacles.

"In the olden times, the amulet would contain a scripture or mantra
of the astrological deity

and the animal

signs of their birthdays.

It all

would be drawn
have
as

in ink

made from

medicinal plants. Nowadays, we don't


print,

much

time, so

we make the mantra from block


deity.

then we

write the

mantra of some

Each

sign has

its

special deity. Usually this

SANDY JOHNSON

119

Professor

Dakthun Jampa Gyeltsen

is

kept secret. This amulet should be worn by the astrologer


is

first,

so that

he himself
I

protected from any negative forces."


if it

asked

were true that his calculations can predict the date when

someone

will die.

"We can predict when a person is going to die, but generally it is not
good
to

be that

specific. Instead

we recommend
life

certain pujas or prayer

offerings be

made, and

to save the

of an animal.

That might be the


this to create

antidote for that year to create good karma.

We

do

good

karma

for ourselves, too.

"In our system,


cut,

we
is

calculate the time of birth

from when the cord

is

when

a person

separated from the mother.


it is

We

believe that the

child's life begins

when

breathing on

its

own.

"We
2 o

also look at a child's potential for education

and capacity

for

THE

OOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

spiritual

growth, whether the child

will
tell

do

spiritual practice

and

if it

will

bring fruitful results.


if

The chart can

us which career would be best and


If

the work will be wrathful or peaceful.


suited.
if

peaceful, then which kind of

work would be best


raise.

We also advise which animals would be best to


there will be

And we look
I

to see

some

big loss in the child's

life."

asked

if

they do horoscopes for whole countries. "Have you done

one

for Tibet?"

"Since there

is

problem

in

Tibet now, we are always looking to see


it

what changes
problem
lations
it is

are

coming. In the calculations,

would seem that the


In

disunity.

Given

this situation, there this year

is

no chance.

my calcuresult,

appears that

maybe
is

we

are going to

have a good

but

in the end, the result

negative."

On that very sad note we brought the


was meeting are the
last

interview to a close.

If

the asI

trologer's calculations are correct, Tibet will

be no more: these masters

holders of the secrets of Shangri-la.

SANDY JOHNSON

12

HOLINESS THE DALAI LAMA


HIS

The desk clerk told me there was a message for me, and handed me a slip of paper. Tenzin Geyche Tethong, the Dalai Lama's private secretary, had called. My audience with His Holiness would take
place the following day at one o'clock.
I

rushed to find Father Bob to

ttell

him.

He was on

the patio, pacing nervously; he had just


fol-

|
enough
I

received notice of his appointment, which immediatelv

,owedmine

woke
them
I'd

at

dawn

the morning of

the Dalai Lama, and sat over tea,

filling

two pages of
I

my audience with my spiral notebook


I

with questions.

read

over; in despair

ripped out the pages.

had

no idea how much time


for
all

be alloted, but

was certain

it

wouldn't be

those idiotic concerns.

went

for a

walk to

try to quiet

the noise inside

my

head.

The

ven-

dors were not vet in their

stalls;

shopkeepers had not opened their doors;

the sky was as

empty and

cloudless as

buddha-mind.
I

walked on, trying to

match

that emptiness, until suddenly

heard loud, insane chatter from


I

somewhere up ahead. At the same time,

spotted an open Jeep parked

alongside a hotel, crawling with monkeys.


seat

They were everywhere,

front

and back, ransacking the


car.

car.

They

flung candy wrappers, underwear,


to

sunglasses out of the


tle

One

little
it.

monkey had managed

open

a bot-

of soda pop,

and drank from

Another scrambled up the

hill

with

what looked
I

like a hairdryer.
tell

started to go into the hotel to

someone

at the

desk about the


of the Jeep,

monkey

invasion,

when

man, obviously the hapless owner

came running out,

shouting.

The monkeys left, but not


Somewhere here
. .

in

any great hurry.

The man
I

yelled:

"They've taken
it: I

my goddamn car keys!"


there was a lesson.
.

couldn't help
. . .

laughed.
.

My

concerns

The busy monkeys

The

laughter

arrived early,

as instructed, for quite a

thorough security
a pat

search,

which included handbags and pockets, and


security officer

down. The

woman

removed the small Swiss Army knife from

my

backpack, to be picked up after the interview.


I

sat in

an anteroom until a

monk

attendant escorted

me

along a

breezeway to a veranda and through the wide doorway that opened onto
the Dalai Lama's receiving room.
cently returned from Tibet,
It

was explained that a Swiss couple,

re-

would be sharing the audience, and that His


afterward.
I

Holiness would talk with


first.

me

was relieved to be an observer

But the Dalai

Lama walked
smile,

directly

toward me, hands outstretched,

beaming
katak,

his

famous

and

said, "Hello,

welcome."

fumbled

for a

my book

almost

falling,

then realized he simply wanted to shake

SANDY JOHNSON

hands.

The moment
of his gaze,

relaxed

and allowed myself

to be enveloped in the

warmth

was
fully

filled

with a feeling of lightness, of time sus-

pended, and of being

present and alive in that

moment.

We took our seats


sulted only once.

in large,

comfortable chairs; the Swiss couple sat


next to a translator,

on the couch, the Dalai Lama

in a chair

who was

con-

And

then His Holiness thought a

moment and decided,


and

"No,

think

like

my word better."
spacious, filled with fresh flowers, altars, statues,
clutter.

The room was

thangka paintings, yet there was no feeling of

The

Dalai

Lama lis-

tened with rapt attention to the Swiss couple's report of what they had
observed while in Tibet. They were describing what happened while they
toured the Potala, the Dalai Lama's winter palace in Lhasa. While they

had stood studying one of the ancient thangkas, bright

lights

suddenly

flooded them, and they realized they were being videotaped.

The

Dalai

Lama

asked

if

any Chinese were speaking Tibetan. No,


speaking Chinese.

they told him, but

many Tibetans were

When
Lama my
on Tibetan
lighted
that

the Swiss couple

finished their story,


I

gave the Dalai

Native American book and explained that


elders. "Yes, yes.
I

was writing one

know."

He

leafed through the book, de-

when he recognized

faces of individuals

he had met.

He

agreed

my

definition of "elder"

had

less to

do with age than with wisdom


this current project

and compassion, and expressed great pleasure with


of mine.

When
cup."
I

confessed

my misgivings and explained that


is

was new to Ti-

betan Buddhism, he answered, "But that

wonderful! You are an empty

told His Holiness about the astrologv professor's dire predictions

for Tibet.

12

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

The
lieve

Dalai

Lama nodded

solemnly, but did not fully agree.


will

"I

be-

our beloved Land of Snows

one day be

freed.

Our

dedication,

sacrifice,

and hard work


it is

will

eventually lead our captive nation to free-

dom. However,
lence."

important that our struggle be based on nonvio-

"What do you
tion?"
I

say to

young Tibetans who want an armed revolu-

asked.
are our

"Enemies

most important
is

teachers.

They

give us the opporit is

tunity to practice tolerance, which


perative that
I

the key to compassion. So

im-

we meet

cruelty with nonviolence."


as

had heard the Dalai Lama described


Compassion,

an emanation of the Bud-

dha

of

a god-king, a living deity of boundless love

and com-

passion

descriptions that have only limited

meaning

to a person

who

is

not a Buddhist. Sitting across from

me

was a

man

of such ordinariness,
instantly
in the

such unself-consciousness, a
forgets

man
All

so

open and simple that one


dissolve.
I

what has been written.


light.

words seemed to

was

presence of pure

Afterward, on the way out, we stopped on the steps, and monk attendant offered to take a picture. stood a step below the Dalai
I

Lama, but he jumped down, took


said,

my

hand, hugged
I."

it

to his chest,

and

"We
I

are
just

on the same
bought
it

level,

you and

He

looked at the Tibetan

ring
it

had

at a stall.

The

small, aged
I

woman who had


it

sold

to

me
sold

said that
(I

was quite old and that

must wear

when

go to

see His Holiness

don't

know how

she

knew I was having an

audience).
little,

She

me

this

oddly shaped turquoise-and-silver ring for very

compared
the Dalai

to the prices of the others.

"Where

did you buy this ring?"

Lama

asked. of the

"From one

women

in the stalls,"

answered.

SANDY JOHNSON

2 5

"I
I

know this

ring,"

he

said quietly,

and blew on

it

to bless
I

it.

then received the red sacred blessing cord, which


it

will

wear around
a

my neck until
tery.

disintegrates.

And

this strange ring that

now held

mys-

Whatever had gone before and whatever lay ahead, I thought I would
I

never be quite the same. Along with the blessings,


cation of the heart.

had received an edu-

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

OUT OF INDIA

had to rethink my plan to apply for a Chinese visa to go to Tiover the

bet

when news came

BBC that two Americans had been arrested


some Tibetans
as a gift.

and detained there

in a

Chinese prison. They had been seen giving an au-

dio cassette of a teaching of the Dalai Lama's to

After a four-day interrogation, they were finally released and


told to leave the country.
I

needed very

little

persuading to

change

my

plans; entering Tibet with

my

recording equipwritten on the

ment and camera, even with "housewife"


visa,
Still,

would be

testing even the kindest deities.

Mahakali must have been watching over

me

in Delhi

when

tried to get

on

a flight to the States.


in a village

The bubonic and pneumonic plagues

had broken out

south of Delhi only days before.

Now
I

people

were flocking into Delhi, and tourists were scrambling for

flights

out of

the country. Unable to reach the airline representatives by phone,

walked

several blocks

from

my hotel

to the airline office.

The

sights

on the

street

were

terrifying.

People wearing hankerchiefs tied around their mouths and

noses crowded the sidewalks; the heat was suffocating. Splatterings of spit

on the sidewalk looked ominous.


with haunted eyes, and gasped

hurried past beggars,

who

stared at

me

when

a little girl reached out

and grabbed
I

my

skirt.

Too cowardly

to look into the face of such suffering,

turned

away.

At the
canceled.

airline office

was told that

all

flights

out of Delhi had been

An
I

English businessman standing behind


try a folded

me
I

suggested, in a

quiet voice,
lars).

five-hundred-rupee note

(less

than twenty dolslipped the well-

Shutting out the faces of the beggars on the


official

street,

groomed
flight

the money.

was then given "the

last seat

on the

last

out of Delhi."
I

When

looked to thank the Englishman, he was


it

gone.

thanked whatever deity

was who had come dressed

as

an English

businessman, and dashed back to the hotel to collect


way,
I

my

bags.
I

On

the
it

gave a ten-rupee note to each of the next


to ease

five

beggars

saw,

but

did

little
I

my conscience;
had
a

the

little girl

was not among them.

felt as if I'd just

glimpse of the lower realms.

2 S

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

CHINESE INVASION AND OCCUPATION:


The Tailor, Part
II

In

1959, the Chinese

illegally

annexed Tibet, and the Dalai

Lama, along with 100,000


tunate
lows
is

refugees, fled to India. Others were not so for-

like

the tailor

who had given me a

picture of old Tibet.

What fol-

the horrific story of his arrest and imprisonment.

i
their horses,
til

"When
fair

the Chinese

attacked

Chamdo, we were
af-

attending the annual Kashag picnic, a week-long grand

held in huge tents, with fine food served from porcelain

dishes.

and knew that something was wrong.

We saw our hosts suddenly ride off toward Lhasa on We didn't find out untroops had arrived. In
[the Dalai

later that the

Communist
and

December

1950,

was

asked to

make Gyalwa Rinpoche


shirt,

Lama] some Tibetan-style


tell

pants and a
I

a layman-style chuba,

but not to

anyone.

When

delivered the clothes to him, he told

me

to

come

to the Potala the next

day and to wear an ordinary chuba and leather shoes, that we would be
leaving at four in the morning.
'As
in

we mounted our

horses at the foot of the Potala,

noticed tears
I

Gyalwa Rinpoche's
for
I

eyes.

He was

dressed in the lay person's clothes


slip

had made

him; no one recognized him, and we were able to

away

from Lhasa.

thought that we'd be gone a few days or maybe weeks, but


for nearly a year. Since

we
I

stayed in

Dromo

we had brought

little

with us,

had to make His Holiness some new clothes.


I

We were close to the border


Calcutta. Since
it

with India, so

ordered

some American wool from


I

was
nere-

khaki, a very unsuitable color,

dyed

it

before making chubas.

Many
I

gotiations were going on, but


ally

was so busy with

my sewing that
felt.

never

understood them.

"The Chinese presence

in

Tibet was strongly

Houses were req-

uisitioned for their use, prices

went up, and our work was usurped. The


tailors to

Chinese,

who hadn't brought much with them, ordered the local


often using as

make them new uniforms,

many

as thirty tailors at a time.

The Chinese

paid well
less

up

to twelve silver dayan a day


that.

while our own


tai-

government paid

than a tenth of

Furthermore, our paper cur-

rency was eaten up by inflation. Tension developed between groups of


lors

and myself, which was defused


to

in

1954 when Gyalwa Rinpoche asked

me

accompany
was a

his

entourage to China.

We left two days later.


many
of the roads,

"It

difficult journey.

Rain had washed out


foot.

and we often had

to travel
first

by mule or on

General Chiang Chin-wu,


us,

who had

led the

delegation into Tibet,

came with

and when we

put up a red cloth fence around Gyalwa Rinpoche's tent at night, the general

demanded one

as well.

We explained
I

that this would be against Tia

betan etiquette, but he insisted, and


sewing machine that
I

made him

white one on the

had brought

along.

He

wasn't completely pleased,

13

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

for

he suspected some
it.

sort of discrimination,

but he didn't say any more

about

"About

five

hundred of us accompanied Gyalwa Rinpoche to China,

including lamas and their disciples, government officials and their families,

cooks, valets,

and various other people.

When we entered China,


While

no

one was lined up


ings.

as usual to see

Gyalwa Rinpoche and to

receive his bless-

They seemed

indifferent to his presence.

part of the en-

tourage continued overland with our luggage, three planes carried the rest
of us to Shingang. After this noisy

and cold

journey,

we were

joined by the

Panchen Lama and


Finally

his

bodyguards, although ours had not been allowed.

we

got to Beijing, where Gyalwa Rinpoche settled into a two-story

house

in a

complex

built

by the Japanese, which had

a lovely garden.

"The Chinese provided everything we needed:

cooks, servants.

Our

own

servants

and cooks were sent along with us to see many


sights.

factories,

schools,

and other

At night, they would take Gyalwa Rinpoche out

with only his interpreter.

We'd

stay

up

late,

drinking tea, worrying

if

they

had taken him to an inappropriate

place."
I

"Did you have much contact with Mao?"

asked.
rarely

"Mao Zedong never appeared


he came to
visit

at meals,

and we

saw him. Once

Gyalwa Rinpoche quite suddenly, and the Chinese

seemed

terrified.

We peeked out into the hall to catch a glimpse of him.


we went on
a grand tour of China,
first

"In the winter

and Gyalwa Rin-

poche began to make public speeches. At

he seemed tentative and

unsure of himself, but by the time he had talked at a number of factories,


schools,

and

stores,

he gained confidence. The Chinese speeches were

all

about

how much

material progress

China had made, how poor the Tibenefit from "help" from China.

betans were, and

how much we would

Some

of our party were impressed with the

new things

they saw in China,

SANDY JOHNSON

13

but

my lama,

Phabongka Rinpoche, had


all

told

me some years before that


Even though
also
it

should watch out for

of the

modern

technology.
faster,

airplanes
if

and modern machines made things go


didn't have
hells,

meant

that

we

good motivation, we could get

to the three lower realms

the
And

the hungry ghost, and the animal realms

a lot quicker.

So I was not

impressed

when

the Chinese told us

how

destitute

we

were.

To me, they

looked quite poor and undernourished in their drab cotton clothing.


the factories, with the intense heat and molten metal, seemed
realm. Then, too, there were crowds everywhere.
"It

like a hell

seemed obvious

to

me

that

we were

terribly fortunate in Tibet.

Our temples

with

all

of their beautiful statues


air

and

lavish ceremonies

were open for everyone to view. The

was pure, the pastures spacious, we


anony-

had enough butter and cheese

for everyone. Also, for centuries, for the sake of

mous

artists

had created beautiful objects

enlightenment

or a better rebirth.

Where

else in the

world could you use your talent or


I

your

money

to attain [spiritual] merit?

remember

all

of our treasures

the rich brocades, the gold-washed statues, the splendidly detailed

thangkas and murals

and

felt

that
I

we

weren't the poor ones.

'After our return to Lhasa,

buried myself in work but could not help

but be aware of the mounting tension around me. As the years passed,
things got worse

and worse,

until, in

March

1959,

was asked to attend


rifles

meeting

at the

Tsuglakhang.

rebellion

was mounting, and


tailors

and

guns were being distributed from the Norbulinka. The


this

had heard

and wanted

to

arm themselves. But

refused, saying that as tailors


I

we

served our government and people with needles, not guns.


to stop sewing for the
uals.
"It

advised
for

them
rit-

Chinese and to help prepare the temples

our

must have been

my

fate to stay behind,


I

because
to visit

at the

time

Gyalwa Rinpoche and

his party left Tibet,

had gone

my

mother,

132

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

who was

old

and

feeble.

He had

sent a message for


I

me to come to the NoralI

bulinka immediately, but by the time

got there, he had already gone,

though not everyone knew


Anxiously,
it
I

this.

With

heavy heart,

returned to Lhasa.
relieved

watched the Chinese

shell the Potala,


I

and was

when

did not burn.

From my window,

could see

many

people being killed

and others being arrested and


'After the generals
linka,

tied together into long lines.

had put down the


house and
set

resistance

around the Norbu-

they came

to

my

up

their quarters in

my

upstairs
dif-

rooms. They installed a portable telephone system and began calling


ferent places.
I

served

them

tea,

thinking that

it

might be useful

later on.

When they left, they thanked me for my hospitality and told me they had
been very comfortable
at

my house.
was soon

Later

found out that they were part

of a group trying to catch

up with Gyalwa Rinpoche.


over.

"The Lhasa
way

rebellion

When the Chinese

found their
there.

into the Tsuglakhang, they shot the people

who were holed up

Many people were killed in the last pockets of resistance. The Chinese celebrated their victory by releasing thousands of paper flowers from a plane
as
it

circled over the Potala.

my house to go pay some bills, a Chinese official and Tibetan translator came to my door and told me to
'A few days
later, just as
I

was leaving

report to Taring House,


all

which had been turned into

a prison.

They knew

me already, so there was not much to say. At the prison, they took my money and put me in a room with fifty other prisoners. The condiabout
tions of our

imprisonment were dreadful: we were packed


little

in like animals,

given only a

bad food, and

all

forced to use a single bucket in the

middle of the room


bet,

for sanitation.

The

stench was overpowering. In Ti-

we were used
"Since
I

to quick punishment, like whippings, nothing like this.


I

couldn't sleep,
rolls

had

a great deal of
I

time to think.

remem-

bered

all

the

of beautiful brocades that

had worked with over the

SANDY JOHNSON

13 3

years, the satisfaction of turning

out perfect garments to satisfied


first
I

clients,

the blessings of being able to serve Gyalwa Rinpoche. At


just to

did this

keep up

had put
punish

me in me for

my morale. Then started to realize that all of these things prison. It made me shiver to think that the Chinese would
I

contributing to a way of
I

life

they wished to eradicate.

vowed

if I

ever got out,

would make an

offering of brocade robes to the

great temples.
'After ten days,
I

had

fallen into despair.

Although
so

several people
still

had

died, the

Chinese kept bringing

in

more people,

we were

overal-

crowded.

And

the food had gotten worse. People's families used to be


in food,

lowed to send

but

after a

message was found


to give us food

in a

thermos

bottle,
store-

that policy was changed.

They began

from the old

rooms

left

over from the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's time, most of which


I

was inedible.
not waste
survival.
I

felt

that

if I

could manage to accept

my

situation,
it

would
toward

my

energy on fear and resentment, but could devote

began to concentrate on getting out.

looking man, told

"When I was called for interrogation, the head of the prison, a fierceme that had spent most of my life exploiting the
I

masses as the Dalai Lama's


table as

tailor.

He

scowled and banged his


I

fist
I

on the

he talked to me.

Finally,
all

when

got a chance to
to,

talk,

told

him

that he could

bang

his fist

he wanted
I

but

was only a
I

tailor.

When
in

the Chinese had asked for uniforms,


every

had complied.
in politics.
said,
'I

had cooperated

way and had not gotten involved


to dismiss
tailors.

He got very angry at this


considered the best of

and was about


seven hundred

me, when

am

I'm no good to you in

jail.

You could use me.

would be happy to work.'

"Where
that
I

got the courage to say


in the Dalai

all

that,

don't know.

Then added
I I

had been

Lama's

service for thirty-eight years, since

was eight years

old,

and

could sew anything.

When

he asked

if I

could

13

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

sew Chinese clothes,


after the cutting

said of course

could, they

would be nothing

at

all

and

fitting of the

brocade

friezes for the temples.


in
it

A few

days

later,

he brought

me

a shirt that

had bullet holes


I

to

mend, then

a pair of

Chinese trousers, and some other work.


let

was given a place to

work, and thev

me

send

home

for

my

sewing machine. In time, he

boasted that he had the Dalai Lama's


requests

tailor

working

for

him. Orders and


a sewing unit.
tailors
I

came pouring

in so fast that

he decided to

set

up

recruited other tailors

from the prison, and some who weren't

but

were having a bad time.

We

often had to work seventeen and eighteen


live

hours at a stretch, but we received more food and no longer had to

packed

in a cell.

"In

mid

1959,

was told that

had

to

undergo a public

trial.

These

harsh

affairs of

the work units involved being insulted by your friends and

neighbors, then beaten.

The

prison authorities

had

told

me

that they

wanted to exempt

me from this, but since they could not, they would recDuring the
trial,
I

ommend that things didn't get too carried away.


get a

had

to

stand on a platform while the Tibetans hurled insults at me. In order to

good work record with the work


their fellow Tibetans.

units, people

were encouraged to dedog, and a


I

nounce

They called me the Dalai Lama's

few of the

women

said that

when

they had been apprenticed to me,


I

had

mistreated them. This was ridiculous, for

a woman apprentice. They tore my clothes, beat me with their fists, and pulled mv ear until was sure that it would come off. think they would have killed me except that my nose began to bleed profuselv. Then they remembered

had never had

that the officials

had recommended that things not go too

far

with me, so

they

let

me go back to prison.
about a
year,
I

'After

dreamed one night that


it

was back

in the

work-

rooms and everything was the way


peared and gave

used to be. Gyalwa Rinpoche apI

me three oranges, which

put in

my chuba. The very next


J 5

SANDY JOHNSON

day,

we were

sent to

Mem
more

and given our prison sentences. Most people

received ten- or fifteen-year sentences, but idea of spending two


years in the
jail

mine was only

three. Still, the

made me

feel desperate.

The

food continued to be bad, and

many

people died. Although their deaths

were supposed to be kept


as a tailor

secret,

one of the

was assigned body

bearer,

men who had worked for me so he told me about it. His job was to
them
at night to the cemetery.

hide the dead in the outhouse, then take

We counted sixty-one bodies.


"I

was released from prison

in 1962.

My house had been sealed, and


I

my things confiscated, so my mother and


While
I

found rooms

in

another house.
taken from the

was

in prison, the

Chinese had given

me red wool me

monks' storerooms to make into chubas

for the prisoners,

and

arrived

home

in

my

red chuba.

My mother's
in

friends told
like a

not to wear this in

public, that

anyone dressed

what seemed

monk's robe would be

punished.
'After a

few months,

was

summoned

again to Meru. This time

I,

along with a few other people


that
I

who were

also labeled 'reactionary,'


like

was told
because

had to 'wear the

hat.'

This was almost

being in

jail,

three people assigned to those

who wore

the hat were to report whatever

we
ers
I

said or did.

We had to ask permission to do everything, and my watchmy life


it

were always nosing into

to get information

from

mv

friends:
if

if

recited prayers or not;


I

how much money I made


would give them

as a tailor.

And

they

found that

made

a mistake,

credit for 'revolutionary

behavior' with the work unit authorities. This was a dreadful


instilling
I

method

of

hatred and mistrust


all

among
odd

people. In addition to this isolation,

was required to do

sorts of

jobs,

such

as

watering someone's veg-

etable garden or cleaning their toilet. This work took


that
I

up

so

much time

couldn't
that
I

make much money


for

sewing. Furthermore, people would de-

mand

sew

them, and then not pay me.

I36

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"The Cultural Revolution was


Guards roamed the
city, visiting

time of intense destruction. Red

different families

and carting away whatChinese didn't take


that
dis-

ever they could find.

They

all

were Tibetan,
it.

for the

part in this devastation, they just organized


I

The beautiful brocades

had made

for the

temple statues already had been taken down and

tributed as loot.
ings

Now the statues were being destroyed, as were the

paint-

and murals. The metal statues were separated from the

clay ones

and

carted off to the Chinese.


clay statues

We heard that they were made into bullets. The


fill

were thrown into the rubbish heaps and used to

in the

swamps. The statues wouldn't sink immediately, but would

float in the

swamp
an eerie
for

for several
effect.

months,

their

heads

visible, eyes

looking out, creating


fires

So many books were burned that some of the

smoked

two days. The chapel of the Tsuglakhang, once so beautiful, was


pigsty.

turned into a
filed.

Anything reminiscent of former times was now de-

"I

couldn't help but think that

all

of the political intrigue

and bad

things that

had happened before the Chinese invaded created the bad

karma that we reaped during the Cultural Revolution. But the Chinese,
whether they knew
it

or not, were also accumulating collective negative


at

karma that would ripen

some

future date.
I

Even knowing this, I found


in

it

very painful to see everything that


in flames.
I

had believed

and worked

for

go up

tried to accept
it

it

in order to retain

"By 1967,
In addition to
to go to
sions.

had become extremely


of the

my sanity. difficult for me


and

to earn a living.
I

all

odd

jobs

had

to

do

as a hat wearer,

was required

many denunciation
itself

or ideological meetings

self-criticism ses-

Lhasa

was

in turmoil,

with two factions of the Red Guard war-

ring with each other.

"In 1969,

was asked to join the sewing cooperative. Although many

of the workers there

had been

my

apprentices,

worked

as a cutter

and

SANDY JOHNSON

3 J

was given various menial jobs to do, such


perience,
Still, it

as fixing the tea. Despite

my ex-

my salary was

eight times lower than others in the cooperative.


years,
It

was an improvement over the past few

and there were no

more

of the dreadful renunciation meetings.

wasn't until 1978 that

those of us

who wore

the hat were once again rounded

up and brought
had been

to
re-

the

Meru

courtyard. This time

we were

told that our hats

moved and once


and

again

we had the

right to talk to

whomever we wished

to go wherever

we wished.

In 1980,

we were allowed to apply for pass-

ports,

and mine was granted almost immediately."

was hearing more and more


Commission

firsthand accounts of the terrible

ordeals

undergone by the Tibetan people following the Chinese invasion.


of Jurists, a
atrocities

The

International

Geneva-based human-rights

monitoring group, reported the

Tibet suffered at the hands of

the Chinese: hundreds of public executions aimed to intimidate the population, including dragging the accused to their deaths

behind galloping

horses and throwing

them from

airplanes.

It

was reported that children

were forced to shoot their parents and religious teachers. Monasteries were destroyed and looted, their sacred images desecrated; monks and

nuns were forced to copulate

in public.

The

People's Liberation

Army

an-

nihilated entire villages with air strikes.

When

the Chinese

first

entered Tibet in 1950, Dorji

Wandu

Phala

was chief commander of the Tibetan Government Regiment,


charge of security for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His
is

as well as in

one of the voices

from the occupation:

"On New Year's Day


People's Liberation

1950, Radio

Beijing

announced

that the

Army would

liberate Taiwan,

Hunan, and

Tibet.

Our
and

army, only a few thousand troops, had only a small

amount

of artillerv

3 S

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Dorji

Wandu Phala

few hundred machine guns and mortars. Appeals to Great

Britain, the

United States, India, and Nepal drew negative responses.

"When the Chinese invaded Chamdo, headquarters of Tibet's eastern front ten

months

later,

the entire country erupted in panic.


days.

The war

between China and Tibet lasted only eleven


United Nations to plead
for intercession,

Our

cabinet cabled the

but to no

avail.

The UN's

posi-

tion was that Tibet's international legal status remained unclear.

"In

December

1950, fearing capture of the Dalai

Lama by
him

the Chi-

nese army, some of us accompanied His Holiness to the border town of

Yatung, near India, where,


quickly.
It

if

necessary,

we could

get

into India

was our responsibility to protect the Dalai Lama. Our govern-

ment
ter

sent a delegation to try to negotiate with the Chinese. Prime Minis-

Zhou

Enlai offered a ten-point plan for Tibet's "peaceful liberation,"

SANDY JOHNSON

3 9

which our delegation refused to

sign.

They instead offered us

a Seventeen-

Point Agreement threatening all-out war against Tibet, so our delegates,

cut off from

all

communication with the Dalai Lama and our governsign.

ment, were forced to

The document was

certified with seals of the

Tibetan government that were forged in Beijing. With the signing of that
so-called agreement, Tibet lost
its

identity as a nation-state.

"We
troops
troops.

returned to Lhasa in August 1951.


July.

The

Dalai

Lama had

just

turned sixteen in

The

following month, three thousand

Red Army

marched

into Lhasa. By

December

there were twenty thousand

"Soon

after the Dalai

Lama

returned to Lhasa, more than ten thouset

sand refugees from outlying areas


guerrilla forces

up

tents around the Holy City, while


in the

maintained strongholds

mountains.

"Several of us shared the responsibilities.

We oversaw about 440,000


There were two
ser-

people.

The army had about

8,500 military personnel.

vices, divided into twelve different sections.

One

service operated solely

for the protection of the Dalai

Lama and

followed wherever he went, from

summer
teries.

palace to winter palace, or to various ceremonies at the monas-

The

other service, national defense, consisted of 500 people,


trips

who

accompanied the Dalai Lama on


"In July 1954,
1

outside the country.

was one of 500 dignitaries to accompany the Dalai


trip to

Lama on

seven-month

China.

The Chinese government


there.

orga-

nized a tour for us Tibetans while

we were

We

saw how poor the

common Chinese people were, and how severely they were controlled by Mao and Zhou Enlai (they used to call him Chew 'n' Lie). That whole
year,
I

felt

very unsure.

wanted only to get back


I

to Tibet.

Although everyI

thing was very well organized,


that the Dalai

was afraid the whole time.


I

wasn't afraid

Lama would be kidnapped, but

felt

extremely uncom-

140

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

fortable.

The Chinese
I

did not

mean us well, and

the future was something

to be feared.

felt this

very strongly.

"On March
Dalai

7,

1959, a Chinese general issued an invitation to the

Lama

to attend a theatrical performance inside the

Chinese camp.
His Holi-

On the morning before, the chief bodyguard was informed that


ness was to
guards.
secret.

come

unaccompanied except for two or three

unarmed body-

The

general also insisted the Dalai Lama's attendance be kept

"We could not agree to this. News spread quickly, and a rumor swept
through Lhasa that the Chinese planned to kidnap the Dalai Lama.

Things grew very tense. Weeks


theatrical

earlier,

four high lamas

had been invited

to

performances without their attendants, and were immediately

arrested

and imprisoned. Three were executed.

'At that time, the Dalai


palace.

Lama was
if

in the Norbulinka, the

summer

The people decided

that

their ruler
let

was expected to go to the


so.

performance alone, they shouldn't


answer the Chinese, and during
the palace.
this

him do

We

took eight days to

time the people of Lhasa surrounded

They wouldn't
It

let

the Dalai
clear to us

Lama

leave the palace because

they were so afraid.


flee Tibet.

became

then that the Dalai

Lama must
es-

During those eight days, evenings were spent planning the


secret.

cape.

It
I

was very

We didn't even have time to go to our families. By


I

then,

was already married and had ten children. But


rumors.

didn't

tell

anyone,

for fear of starting

An announcement was made

to the crowds

gathered at the Norbulinka's front gate that the Dalai


cline this

Lama would

de-

and any future


city

invitations to

PLA headquarters.
demonstrations decrying the Sev-

"The

was in a

state of turmoil;

enteen-Point Agreement were taking place, enraging the Chinese.

The

PLA mounted

heavy

artillery

around the entire Lhasan

valley.

The

Dalai

SANDY JOHNSON

Lama later wrote

in his autobiography:
likely to

'I

felt as if

were standing between


. .

two volcanoes, each


duty was to prevent a

erupt at any

moment
between

My

most urgent

totally disastrous clash

my unarmed people

and the Chinese army/

"On March
at the

15, a

platoon of Chinese soldiers stationed themselves

southern wall of the Norbulinka, and hundreds of Tibetan soldiers

positioned themselves to take aim.


fired.

Two

days

later,

the

first

shots were

Mortar

shells fell

within yards of the Dalai Lama's residence.

"This was the moment. With no belongings, only one cup in our
pockets,

we

left

the palace that night at ten o'clock.

The

Dalai

Lama

dis-

guised himself in a layman's robe and hat, a gun slung over his shoulder,

and removed
ter,

his glasses.
all

One

of the soldiers carried a bag of tsampa, but-

and some meat,

the provisions

we could

bring.

The

Dalai Lama's
a tarp in the

two tutors and members of the Cabinet rode hidden under


back of a truck.
"Exactly

how we

left is still secret,

but we did. Near the border, the

Khampas, underground

fighters,

were waiting with their horses. The

Khampas

followed us and protected us until

we

got to the Indian border.

The

trip

took more than two weeks by horse. At one point, Chinese planes

flew overhead, and

we knew we had been


a

spotted.

We expected they'd be
just

on us

in

no time. But

sandstorm suddenly blew up


safe."

behind

us,

con-

cealing our column,

and we were

Dorji Phala paused, remembering. His eyes were fixed on a mental

image of that
protection.
I

moment when he, a secular man, witnessed an


him how that
incident affected him.

act of divine

asked

He

closed his eyes

and nodded

silently.

"Some

officials

were sent ahead to the Indian border to request asy-

lum. Nehru agreed that the Dalai

Lama and his

followers could

come

into

142

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

We settled first in Musoori. There we organized schools and settlements until the government-in-exile moved to Dharamsala in 1960. We
India.

were grateful to the government of India.


"At that time, officials

were spread around

in different places.

went

to

Kalimpong, near Darjeeling.

My main job was to set up a school and to


to

help the refugees. Other colleagues shared these duties.


"In Tibet, I'd always

sewed our government. Transferring


it

Europe

was

a big change,
I

but looking back,

wasn't so bad. First

went to Sussex,

England, where

acted as adjunct to the house father at the Pestalozzi

Children's Village for three years.

"My
and
well.

brother,

Thupten
first

Phala,

who had

settled in

Geneva,
in

Switzerland,

became the

representative of the Dalai

Lama
I

Europe
as

my

son had also

moved

to Switzerland.

So eventually

came here

"When
Afterward,
retired.
I

first

arrived here,

helped

mv brother, who had become


and continued there
at seven. It takes

ill.

went to work
I

in a textile factor);
I

until

Now

live

an ordinary life.
I

get

up

me more than

an hour to say
ping, take
lot of

my prayers. Then have my breakfast and do some shopmy walk, and write letters. After that, read scriptures. I have a
I

Tibetan neighbors, and we

visit

each other.

It's

a large

Tibetan com-

munity.
I

The

next village has a monastery as well.

The time
I

passes quickly."

was always curious to know what each person

interviewed thought

about the future of Tibet. Namtak Yundung's concerns were about the
next generation of Tibetans,

who

are

growing up

in the

West and

receiv-

ing their teachings from Western-educated lamas; while Mr. Phala's were

about the next generation of Chinese,


thinking and thus perhaps
"I

who seem

to be

more Western-

more

willing to consider Tibet's freedom.


political

have a feeling that the internal

system

in

China

will

SANDY JOHNSON

14 3

change.

The younger

generation of Chinese seems more open, and perin strictly black

haps doesn't see things

and white. They

also

seem more

interested in material gains.


"I

would love to spend


going to be
free,

my last

years in a free Tibet, but

if

you ask

if

Tibet

is

we must

say

we

don't know.

We can have hope.


in

My

attitude toward the Chinese

and the situation


is

my homeland

is

based on Buddhist philosophy, which


that,
I

how I can
our

face the situation.

With

can face any hardship. The Tibetan community has the Dalai
is

Lama, so there
have
this.
I

deep comfort. This


children they

is

privilege.

Other nations don't

tell

my

must

care for each other

and not

lose

their cultural heritage.

"The Dalai Lama


listen to

sets

an example

for the

whole Tibetan nation.

We

him and we

feel

much better. No

other leader of a nation makes

his people feel like this."

was beginning
to bring

to understand

how

this small enclave of exiles

had managed

enough

of Tibet with

them

to sustain themselves.

14

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

WA

HEROES

Ngawangthongup, known
March 20

as

Kuno, was

the hero of the


it

uprising in Lhasa in 1959. Called the "incredible revolt/'

took

place three days after the Dalai Lama's escape to India. Twenty-eight years

old at the time,

Kuno was

the youngest

member of the four-man Council


after join-

of Lhasa, a post to

which he had been appointed

ing the government service at age eighteen.

He had

fought

nobly for the holy city of Lhasa, but his greatest


said,

victory,

he

was to overcome

his

longtime hatred of the Chinese.


official in

Educated

as a

monk

the Dalai Lama's gov-

ernment, Kuno held key positions


in

for twenty-five years,

both

in

Lhasa and

Dharamsala. In 1952, he invented the Tibetan typewriter, which was


in India

produced

by Remington Rand

in 1976.

He

has taught and lec-

tured in universities throughout the world, and has published

numerous

books and

articles in

Tibetan, English, and Chinese. In 1983,

Kuno

be-

came

the official biographer of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Tall, reed

thin, with
lives

an aquiline
in

face, his

long gray hair worn in a ponytail,

Kuno now

and works

Thekchen Choling, the headquarters

of the Dalai

Lama

in

Dharamsala.

"My personal name


is

is

Ngawangthongup.

My nickname,

Kuno,

a Tibetan word, a title of respect, but


I

when

taught foreign studies at

the Tokyo University in Japan,

learned that the Japanese also have a word


I

with the same pronunciation. Later,

found out that

it

also appears in

German, but with

a different

meaning. According to

my

horoscope,

needed to change the name Ngawang to get


"I

rid of obstacles in

my life.
I

was born
I

in 193

My father and mother divorced early;


it

was their

only son. Later

realized that

was good

for

both of them to divorce:

my

mother was very


out a
lot.

religious, while

my father was business oriented and went


and grandmother
in the family

"As a child,

lived with

my mother

home

in the country. It

was a three-story stone house, similar


higher, wider,

in construc-

tion to

most Tibetan houses, but

and

larger

than most.

Across the front there were two big steps, then a courtyard.
"I

received a good education from that side of


old,

my

family.

When

was three or four years

reading and writing. She also taught


at the food, observe its color

my grandmother began teaching me Tibetan me that when you eat, you must look
and shape, and ask where
it

came from, who

produced

it.

In Tibet,

all rice is

imported from China or India or Nepal.


grain of rice represents at least
insects died for this
in the fields. If

My

grandmother would

say,

A single

one

drop of the farmer's blood.


of rice?

And how many

one grain

Think

of the people

who died working


not valuing
it

you waste a

single grain of rice,

you are
she'd

really
say,

or the labor that

went into

producing

it.'

Then

Taste things

individually, don't

mix them

146

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

together.

And

give thanks for the food

and those who brought

it

to your

table; pray for

them and generate


was she who

a determination to return something,

at least a prayer' It

first

taught
in
it.

me how

interdependent the

world

really

is,

and to value everything


a

"Then my mother married

Nyingma lama. That

family had a tra-

dition of learning Tibetan medicine, so

my

grandmother and mother

brought a Tibetan medicine practitioner to teach me.

my father took me from my mother's home because he wanted to put me in school in Lhasa. My grandmother and mother were training me as a medical doctor, you see, but wanted to be a monk.
"Later,
I

Everybody wanted to go to the

capital, the center of

Buddhism.
I

had
go,

heard of people going on pilgrimage to this holy place, so


too.
I

wanted to

became

monk when I was


in Tibet,
if I

six years old.

"You know,

we have polygamy and


could manage
it, I

polyandry.

If

married

somebody,

after that,

could have another wife, or

two or
I

three. Also,

one

woman can have two or three husbands. Therefore,


father traveled a great deal to different parts of

have four mothers.

My

the country, so after he and

my mother

divorced, he had three wives.

Sometimes

all

three wives
all

would gather

together, even live together.


if

Each

woman
called
I

took care of
all

of the children as
"

they were her own, and

we

them
asked

'mother.'
if it

him
I

was hard

for
I

him

to leave

home

at

such a young age.

'At

first,

cried every day.

wanted

to see

my

[biological] mother.
for her.
I

Particularly at sunset, that's

when I became most homesick


much. But
in

also

loved

my

grandmother

very, very

Drepung monastery, the


me.

college

had

fatherless brothers, so they took turns taking care of


is

"Drepung monastery

like a

whole

university,

with four colleges.


these, three
regent.
I

Each monastery would chose nine candidates, and from


would be
selected, with the approval of the Dalai

Lama or his

was

SANDY JOHNSON

14 7

one of those young monks who were brought to the Potala palace school,
where
I

lived

from age ten to seventeen. Although

would see the Dalai


us.

Lama,

could not talk to him. Nor could he make contact with


at certain
all

But

we'd see him

times

when we were
him

giving

him

blessings, like the

New Year, when we


'At the school,

went

to offer

scarves.

we

received a newspaper published in Tibetan. Until

then, very few of us in Tibet understood

much

about the

far reaches of

the world.
gland.

We knew only China,

India, Russia, Mongolia, Japan,

and En-

We knew nothing of the Americas. We didn't know about other inlike this: Russia,

digenous people. In our view, the world looked

Mongolia,

China, India, and Tibet

made up one whole

face;

then on

this side

was

Japan, like an ear; and England, as the other

ear. It

was only during the


I

Second World War that we found out how much we didn't know.
wanted to see something
"After

of this world.

completing

this college,

one would automatically become

monk

official

and, depending on his qualifications, could get a job in difI

ferent offices.

was placed
all

as a clerk in the secretary's office in charge of

the monasteries and


I

religious sites.

That was
oracle

in 1948."

remembered what the Gadong

had

said
I

about Tibet's

polit-

ical

system as a combination of church and

state.

asked

Kuno

to explain

this to

me.
in

"Only

Tibet do they have this system where

monk officials and lay-

officials join

together in their work, like a coalition in the government.

Every single office has both


judicial office that involves

monk

officials

and

lav officials

except

the

punishment. Since the Fifth Dalai Lama,

1642,

and

to the present, the Dalai


that, the

Lama

is

the head of the Tibetan govof


all

ernment. But before

government was made up

the families

of the aristocracy, with the ruling class exacting a great deal

from the peasall

ants in a sort of feudal system.

The

Fifth Dalai

Lama

invited

of the

4 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Kuno

children of the aristocracy to reform the government. At that time the lay-

men who made up the government weren't working efficiently. The


Lama thought
mads

Dalai

the government should work for the peasants and the noof the people

the majority

for their benefit instead of for the

benefit of the aristocracy. So he invited

monks and lamas from

different

monasteries,
to join in the
justice.

who had good

educations or were outstanding in some way,


to strive for

government to serve the general population and

'At

first,

those

monks were

elderly,

and the system worked very

well.

Then

the Dalai
it

Lama and
a

his assistants,
train

who were

like

prime ministers,

thought
ficials

would be

good idea to

monks

to collaborate with lay of-

of the aristocratic families.

So

at the Potala palace, they established

a kind of institute or school that trained

monk

officials.

Thev

selected

SANDY JOHNSON

4 9

monks from
cap and

traditional monasteries

who

didn't have any physical handi-

who were

very intelligent. These

monks came from

varied back-

grounds

peasants, nomads,

and

common

people, even bankers' sons.

"During the
litically,

early fifties, the

government was very conservative po-

and the

aristocratic families very

much afraid of reform. The Thirbut they didn't succeed. In

teenth Dalai
Lhasa,

Lama had

tried various reforms,

we

already

had some kind

of

underground movement organized

among
official,

the students within the school.


I

And

later,

when

had become an

felt

we needed

to

move

in a different direction.

The whole world


as well.

was going toward democracy, and we needed to change


ent Dalai

The

pres-

Lama

also

wanted these reforms.


government sent delegations to the

"At that time, the Tibetan

United States,
staff

Britain, Nepal, India,

and China. Being the


States,
I

clerk of the

member selected to go to the United

was to accompany His

Holiness there as

monk

official.

We

had already departed from Lhasa


not to go
farther.

when they telegraphed


stay

us, ordering us

They

told us to

and

wait.

We

waited almost seven months while the negotiations


In

went on.

We arrived in the winter and celebrated Losar there.


we returned
to Lhasa.

summer,

when

the negotiations failed,

'After the Seventeen-Point

Agreement with China, the Tibetan govto

ernment agreed to send young Tibetans

China

to study the language.

The

goal was to foster

good communication and

a better relationship befor the trip,

tween our two countries. The Dalai Lama even gave us money
like

pocket money.

We went to Beijing to the so-called National Minority


special privileges.

Institute.

At

first,

we Tibetans had

The Seventeen-Point
all

Agreement specified that the Chinese must respect


and
culture. In Tibet,
is

Tibetan traditions

we

don't have beds, just cushions, like a futon. Also

the custom

never to step over someone, even over another's clothes.


single

Other students, even Mongolians, had bunk beds, but Tibetans had

5 O

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

beds.

The Tibetans were


meat

given a separate kitchen because

we

don't eat

seafood, only yak

or mutton.

"But

in 1956, things started to

change

rapidly.

At

first

we were

al-

lowed to teach Tibetan


dents.

religion, language,

and culture to the Tibetan

stu-

Even the Chinese were learning the Tibetan language, but not our

culture or religion.

They taught

us Maoism, Marxism, Leninism, the

Long

March, and the goodness of China. In the beginning they were


say that Tibet belonged to China. Later,

afraid to

when they began

to claim that

Tibet was part of their country, everything changed.

"The Chinese had


all

a saying:

A hundred

flowers can

bloom together
At

at once,

and

hundred scholars can express

their thoughts freely/

that time, people were allowed to criticize Chinese policy,


first

and we were the

ones in the school to make a poster that questioned the Chinese polof 1956,

icy

on Tibet. In the autumn

we organized meetings. Then the


Peking, and gradually

trouble began.

About 800 Tibetans were living in

we

began to

realize that

we were

in danger.

had already scheduled

a foural-

month

vacation to go back to Tibet to see


I

my mother.
I

If

that

had not

ready been planned,

could not have gone back, for

was on a

blacklist.

We had established an underground movement among the teachers and


students, and the officials found us out.

One

of

my

teachers, a

Chinese
to guar-

who had

lived in

London and

Paris,

advised
I

me

to leave.

He had

antee the Chinese government that


I

would come back, but he knew that


I'd return,

didn't plan to return.

So

went to Tibet, pretending that

but

didn't go back to China.


'At

That was 1957."


finally

what point did you


first

meet the Dalai Lama?"

"The

time

met

the Dalai

Lama was

in

China.

The

so-called

Communist Chinese
worked on the

constitution had to be translated into Tibetan,


I

Mongolian, and a few other languages, and


translations.

was on the committee that

When

the Dalai

Lama went

to Beijing at the

SANDY JOHNSON

end

of 1954,

he learned that the constitution was going to be published


to

as

a book,

and wanted

know about
China.

the project.

He

also

wanted

to hear

about our experiences

in

"For almost four hours he conferred with


ocratic ideas

me

alone.

He had demto Tibet.

and

told

me

that he

wanted

to bring

more changes

Actually, the Thirteenth Dalai

Lama had

outlined the democratic consti-

tution and even invited village people to Lhasa to be specially trained, but

they did not stay long.

They didn't want

to offend the aristocratic families.


aristocratic families

The monks were


ported

also

manipulated by the

who

sup-

them and acted

as their benefactors.
1

"At the time of the invasion, in 1959,

was on the translation com-

mittee in Lhasa City, living at the Jokhang temple.


the Chinese would shell us, so

We never thought that


And
the Dalai

we were not

prepared.

Lama

had not advised us to

fight.

"We

were able to erect only two barricades. One, made of timber


a

and sand bags, provided


For the other,
forced

machine-gun post

at the rear of the cathedral.

we

tore

up the old cobblestones from the

square,

and

rein-

them with

old chairs and tables and bales of cloth from the nearby
else

Nepalese shops and anything


that

we could
and

lay

our hands on.

On

top of

we put hundreds

of flower pots

tin cans already filled with

earth

some

early flowers

blooming

in

them.

"Just after

two

in the

morning, we heard the machine guns

in the

distance at

first,

then nearer and nearer; early in the morning, they shelled

the Jokhang; about dawn,

we heard them on the Norbulinka

side, the

western side of the building; just before sunrise, we saw that the\ were
shelling the
tall y

Mentsikhang, the medical


it,

institute; within

hours they had to-

destroyed

the main school, and the apartments where


.
.

many

peo-

ple lived

totally destroyed

That was the worst; that evening they


all

started shelling the Potala.

They destroyed

of the electrical poles.

The

5 2

THE BOOK OF

B E TA S

ELDERS

soldiers

came, and we wanted to

fight,

but there was no way. Then the

people started flooding the temple, including

many women.

We
us.

all

worked together.

We

had only

few guns. Mainly we threw stones. The


tea

women were
"Then,
closer,

so brave.
fire,

They brought us

and kept encouraging


it

The

temple was on
at

and the

women went

to help put

out.
in

about nine o'clock the next evening, the Chinese came


area,

found an open

and charged about twenty


I

taken cover from the shelling. In the meantime,


the upper part.
bet's freedom.
I

was

women who had with two men on


for Ti-

was very encouraged, because we were fighting


all

We

hoped that the Dalai Lama had already escaped

from Tibet, but we had no way of knowing.

We thought that maybe

if

we

could keep the Chinese out of the temple within the Potala, he could

make

his escape.

We didn't realize that he was already gone.


how
to fight,

"There was one among us who knew


him.

and we followed

He was
I

in charge.

We called him Gurgur, The Hunchback.' Others


after the failure of the uprising.

and

didn't hold out

much hope

But we

never thought that the Chinese would be so hard on the Tibetans or that
they would destroy so much.

"There was no way we could win. Even


nese, they

if

we surrendered

to the Chi-

would

either

kill

us there at the temple or

we would be put

into

prison and tortured


cessful,

and

killed.

There was no way we could have been suc-

but

I still

believe
I

we

did the right thing in trying.


at the
I

"Until 1986,
fight

was very angry

Chinese and

really

wanted
fight,

to

them

again, but that

was wrong.

thought that we had to

but

now I

follow the Dalai Lama's teachings


talk

and no longer think


I

this way.

"They
washed

about the Chinese brainwashing.

think the Dalai


I

Lama

my brain.

There was the Kalachakra

initiation

fully received in

Bodh Gaya. I learned how to go within and


anger and hurt with compassion.
I

deal with

my mind, to counter
but
it

had studied

this before,

hadn't

SANDY JOHNSON

moved my mind. Now I understand


personal level,
it

if

we hold anger
we

for a

country or on a

cannot bring good.

If

practice patience

and

tolerance,
in every

then

there'll

be peace within.

When we
as a

have that kind of peace

single person's
I

mind, then the world

whole

will

have true peace. Since


If

have dropped

my anger, I've had this inner peace.


at least pray for
I

we

can't love our en-

emies,

we should

them.
I'd

"Before 1986,

even used to pray negatively.


in

hope that there

would be earthquakes
I

China

or

mud slides or some other disaster. Now


is

pray for the Chinese in a positive way.

"They
Local
is

say,

Think

globally; act locally' Locally

wherever you

are.

your mind. You can clean up the environment in every way, but

you

also

need to clean up your mind. In order to take global


local responsibility, for

responsibility,

you must take

your

own

self."

It

could not

have been so simple,


all

thought, given what these

people witnessed, to erase

negativity

and anger toward the Chinese


find such mental disci-

from

their minds.
I

Where

in the

West would one

pline?
flight

thought back to

from Tibet, which he had told to

Denma Locho Rinpoche's description of his me on my second visit to him in

Dharamsala:

"Since

had

spent so

much

of

my

time studying,
I

wasn't really

aware of the Chinese presence in Tibet, although


that disturbed me. About the time
lege, the situation in
I

began to hear things

finished with

Gyume
I

Tantric Col-

Lhasa had gotten very bad, and


I

began to think of

returning to India, where

had gone on pilgrimage

in 1956.

One

day

Gen

Nyima
you

called

me into his room. He burst out, Are you going around saying
Maybe you
just

are leaving for India?


I

want

to enjoy a ride in a train or

an airplane?'

told

him

thought the situation was getting worse, but

he

54

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

just

shrugged and told

me

that

Gyalwa Rinpoche

[the Dalai

Lama],

his

tutors, the

Ganden Throneholders, and many

other great beings in Tibet

were not talking about going to India, and


didn't

said, 'So what's

up with

you?'

know what

to say, so

just sat there, silently.

"Chinese spies were everywhere, even

in the monastery.
I

Once

monk from Drepung Tantric

College,

Communism and
nism was

asked

my

opinion.
it

whom knew to be a spy, criticized told him that thought CommuI


I

really all right

except

didn't accept religion.


in

added that the


paid the

PLA
local
at

[People's Liberation

Army]

Kham had behaved well and


Chinese

people the price they had asked for food and so forth.
always

He didn't reply
in public.
,

all. I

made

it

a point never to criticize the

"In the second

month of the Year of the Earth


oracle.
I

Pig [1959] the abbots

went to consult the Gadong


carrying only a bowl
cle

went with Gen Nyima on horseback,


scarf.

and an offering
for

When
I

asked the

Gadong ora-

what would be the best

me, he

said

should stay right there. That

night the shelling started.

A family gave

us tsampa, tea, and horses, and

we

started out for the Indian border.

At one point, we were going over a


cross
if it

pass that
villagers

would not have been impossible to


to ask
if I

snowed.

When the
The

came

could do anything to help,

used an amulet from

Sakya Dagchen, which contained a small charm for stopping snow.

charm was
been stuck
nately
of
its

very powerful,
there.

and the sky

cleared. Otherwise,

we would have
fortu-

Beyond the

pass, the

snow was very deep, but

we met

a yak

coming toward us and were able

to follow the channel

We did a divination and decided to press on through a few more passes. We finally reached the Indian border and were
path through the snow.

among the
I

first

group of refugees to cross over."


a Native
I

had once seen

American shaman
it

divert a storm, so

knew

such things were possible. beginning to see that


it is

believed then that

was a

gift,

but

now I was

also the intensity of the practice.

SANDY JOHNSON

5 5

Denma Locho continued: "Then in 1967 His asked me to go to Manali to serve as the abbot of a
in

Holiness's

two tutors

small monastery; and

1978

spent a year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where


translated.

Jeffery

Hopkins

The

university students were interested in the


I

prajna paramitas, the Six Perfections.


I

can't generalize about people, but

felt

that Tibetans tend to be contented people, while Westerners are so


it

involved with possessions that they find


istic

difficult to leave the material-

way and attend


"I

to

dharma.
to California

went with His Holiness

when he gave the Kalachakra


monks performed. Amerireligious

initiation,

and

to

New Mexico when


for us,

the choir

can Indians danced

and when the monks performed


sky.

dances, there was a rainbow in the

These Indians

liked

it

so

much!

They

are very
I

fond of rainbows."

smiled,
I

remembering that I had attended that ceremony;

it

was the

first

time

had seen the Dalai Lama. Many Native Americans interpreted

the appearance of such a spectacular rainbow as a blessing from the Great


Spirit for
I

both the Tibetan and Native American peoples.

mentioned to

Denma Locho Rinpoche

that so

many

of the teach-

ings

had heard

tell

us that the practices begin with transcending selfish-

ness and anger and jealousy, but that


steps are in getting rid of anger.

nobody had explained what the

first

"Anger makes you and other persons unhappy, and creates enemies

and animosity.

When you get angry it is very difficult to think in temis of


is

compassion, for compassion


just

the opposite of anger. Don't say anything,

concentrate on calming your breathing. After about ten breaths, you

will feel a little bit

more calm; then you

will

think and think and see that


if

maybe

there

is

a misunderstanding. Besides,
is

you show anger to the


you should

other person, he

onlv going to

become more

angry. Instead,

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

try to

understand him

better.

You have

to think

and to use your compas-

sion."

He
"If

reached for his dog,

Champa, who jumped onto


dog
will bite

his lap.

you

hit a

dog with

a stick, the

the stick because he

doesn't

know

that the stick has


is

no control over
it is

itself.

So

if

you think that

the other person


it is

showing anger to you,

not that person doing that,

the anger inside of him.


"If

you

just feel regret,

it is

of

no

use,

but
it

if

you

feel regret in

your
if

heart, that will contribute to your not doing

again in the future. So

that sort of regret comes, then


"If

it is

very fortunate.
sin,

you have commited some

your regret
sin

will

prevent you from


I

doing

it

again. This particular idea

about

and

regret,

think,
I

is

the
this

same with the


seat, a place

Christians.

When

went

to a church in

London
if

saw

where you could make confessions. In Tibet,


it

you confess

and commit not to do


I

again, this leads to purification."

asked what future he saw for the Tibetan people and for the world

in general.

"Both

my

teacher and
it

feared
to

what would happen to the monastic


be
like a turtle

structure in exile, for

seemed

without

its shell. I've

seen the lives of

many monks blown about like


totally disoriented

feathers in the wind.

Many Many

young tulkus have been


from

and have had to turn away


life.

their studies in order to


live

cope with an entirely new way of


I'd

have gone to
bet.

abroad.

kept thinking that

be able to go back to Ti-

That hope sustained

me

even though others

who

spoke English told

me that

the possibility didn't look very good.


I

"But

think the world in general


little bit

is

heading

for better times.

My fears
is

have been a
less

lessened

now that

the Cold

War

is

over and there

danger from nuclear war.

SANDY JOHNSON

5 J

"My main
flicts

interest

is

to help this world. Since there are so


diseases,
I

many con-

and controversies and new

pray that
all

my

meditations
I

morning, noon, and evening


in this

will

be to end

this suffering. Since


I

am

world and have connections with this world,

pray that this sort of


will

suffering will go away,

and that everyone, including myself,

be

safe. Al-

ways

pray that way."


I,

And

in turn,

would pray that these people

of

Shambala get back


all

their country

and continue

their noble lives for the benefit of

beings.

5 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

SURVIVING THE INVASION

The Chinese army

targeted

monks and nuns


it

as the

most

threatening group in Tibetan society, but

was the
fire

women

of Lhasa

who

took to the streets and dared the Chinese to


spring of 1959,

on them. And

in the
at-

when

Chinese general demanded the Dalai Lama's


at a theatrical

t
to Ind 1a.

tendance

show

inside the

Chinese camp)

without bodyguards or soldiers

it

was the

women who lay


women
finally

down on
taking

the road to prevent His Holiness's vehicle from


to certain captivity.

him

These same

spearheaded the revolt that led to the Dalai Lama's escape

"Right after the uprising," Newang


head nun
in

Choezin, the former

Dharamsala, had told me, "a

movement was started. Two ladies


ladies to

one was a nun

moved many Tibetan

Dharamsala. Someone

turned in their names for starting this movement.

The nun was


and she
fell

shot later
in the pit. in the

on by the Chinese. They stood her up and shot

her,

A nun from her abbey was imprisoned and grew very sick.
hospital.

She died

Another nun was shot by the Chinese.


that truth

"I feel

and

justice should prevail,

and

am

praying for
lust for

that.

am
If

also praying that the

Chinese people's anger and their

Tibet should be lessened.

And I am
justice,

teaching the younger nuns to do the


suffering so

same.

there

is

truth

and

we Tibetans should not be

much.
I

Also, the world should understand that the


If

Chinese are wrong. So


merit,

pray for that too.

the whole

community can accumulate good


I

things will go in a positive direction.


tred.
I

teach the young

girls

to avoid haas

think to myself that

maybe

I've created

bad karma, or maybe we

a people

have done bad


feeling of

collectively, so

we have

to suffer at this time.

Please,

may the

compassion and the feeling of goodness grow in


last for a

the hearts of the Chinese so this suffering doesn't have to


time.

long

"When
volved with

it

came time

to escape,

it

was always

in

my mind

that
I

if

the

Chinese caught

me they would do very bad things to me, since was inthe women who started the movement. The border in the
and there were
I

area of Sikkim was not closed,

traders,

Muslims, and other

non-Tibetans going in and out.

joined a small group of them, and they

were helpful, but

had

to

be careful to stay hidden.


it

"Usually the journey took seven days, but


to reach India. Since
dress

took us fifteen days


I

nuns were not allowed


Everyone was
in

to go through,

had

to

up

like a beggar.

such a sorrowful

mood

that

begging wasn't so hard; people would always give vou


thing to eat. At the border, guards couldn't always
into Tibet or
tell

a little

somegoing

who was

who was coming

out,

and we managed

to slip by.

We

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

were on foot almost the whole time.

It

took three months to reach

Dharamsala.
"In

Kalimpong there were other Tibetans, and they treated us

well.

Also at that time, Christian missionaries were giving out milk powder

and

oil

and other things that were very

useful. I'm

still

grateful for those

alms.
"In Dharamsala, His Holiness held

two public audiences each

day.

Everyone had problems and wanted to


audiences, His Holiness asked
I

talk to
just

him. In one of the public


Tibet.
I

who had

come from

said that

had been

nun

in Lhasa.

He
I

told us to stay for a bit afterward.

When

His Holiness learned that

knew how

to read

and write Tibetan, he


a nursery school for teaching

gave
in

my name

to his
I

sister.

She had already started


live in
I

Dharamsala;

was offered a place to

exchange

the children and looking after their health.


years.

stayed two or three

Then an

offer

came from Sweden


I

to bring

young

girls

there as

students, to learn nursing, so


studied.
"I

went to Sweden

for four years

and

was surprised

at

how

big the people were, and

how

blonde!

And

the bathing suits and the things they wore, everything was so different.

My sponsors

taught

me how to make a Western


tulpa
to

cake,

and

taught

them

how to make momos and


"Thirty-six of us
gland,

and other Tibetan

dishes.

went

Sweden. Of those, some went on to Enothers

some got married, and

came back
I

into the Tibetan settlein

ment

in India to serve as nurses or teachers.

was put

charge of the

nursery. After

some

time,

came

here, to Dharamsala.

"At

first

we were

very poor here at the abbey, but the Tibetan people

are extremely religious

and made many

offerings,

and we were able to


I

build and

make

repairs.

We

also got gifts

from the West.

received

SANDY JOHNSON

enough donations

of food so that

could do a meditation

retreat.

was

one of the lucky ones."


I

asked her what she meant.

It

was then that

heard about the one

we

will call

"Dolma."

Dolma
which
are dark

is

still

young

twenty-fourthough
cruelty. Yet, strangely,

in her eyes,

and enormous

in the small face,

one can see centuries of


the compas-

humanity's unspeakable capacity for

sion in those eyes transcends pain. In that compassion,


spiritual

one glimpses true

heroism.

"In the spring

of 1988, five of us

nuns started poster campaigns

to protest the continued persecution of our people by the Chinese.

On

May

15,

nine of us, along with two

monks from

nearby monastery, held

a secret meeting.

We decided to stage a protest march calling for Tibetan independence and the release of Tibetan political prisoners. We vowed we
activities peaceful in

would keep our

accordance with the wishes of His


that
if

Holiness the Dalai Lama.

We

also

vowed

any of us were arrested

and interrogated, no one would divulge the


ter

identity of the others,


sacrifice

no mat-

what they did

to us,

and that we would


religion.

our

lives

if

necessary
secretly

for the sake of


left

our country and our

Then, one by one, we

our abbey.
"At ten o'clock

on the morning

of

May

17,

we met

in front of the

Jokhang temple.

We circled the temple three times, shouting our slogans.


armed
police arrived

On

the third round, Chinese

and dragged us onto

their trucks to take us to prison.


in the
air,

Thev made

us stand with our hands raised

but

still

we kept shouting our

slogans.

That made them

angry,

and they began to kick us and beat us with

rifle

butts and truncheons.

One monk began


6

to bleed profusely.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"We
Then

were taken to Gutsa prison

in Lhasa.

Guards photographed us

and took our names and the names of our nunneries and monasteries.
they began to interrogate us one by one.

"They asked
ringleaders.

me
I

for the

names

of the ringleaders.

said

we

all

were

When

wouldn't answer their questions, they brought in a

dog

to attack

me. The dog would bite

my

arms and

legs

whenever

moved.

"Then they took me


stripped.

to another room,

where

was handcuffed and

Two women

beat

me

with truncheons and prodded

me

in the

vagina and

mouth with
prisoners

electric cattle prods.

They did

this in full
I

view of

some male
iation

who were watching from windows.


I

felt

such humil-

and shame, and the pain was so great


to,
I

lost consciousness.

When

came

was

in

another

cell, still

naked.

"Sometime
young

in the night they

came

for

me again. They said

was too

to have planned the demonstration,

and they wanted the names of


lie

the people

who

did.

refused to give
body.
toes,

them any names. They made me


they brought in a chair and chin resting on the
chair.

down and stomped on my

Then
with

made
Each
and

me

squat, balanced
I

on

my

my

time

fell,

they beat me. Five more guards

came
until
I

in

and beat

me

kicked me.

They

twisted

my arms behind me

fainted.

and

in a cell; there was blood on my face my body. The pain was excruciating. During the next ten days there was blood in my urine. asked to see a doctor. When two women doctors came to see me, told them about the blood. They slapped me in

"The next morning I was alone


over

all

the face and walked away.

had no food

for

two days

after.

"On the third day I was


tortured once more.

taken for interrogation again, and beaten and

"Three months

later

we were

released

and ordered to our abbey.

When

arrived

discovered the Chinese had begun daily "re-education"

SANDY JOHNSON

63

sessions to indoctrinate our

nuns about the virtue


is

of the

Communist

sys-

tem and

to convince us that Tibet

an irrefutable part of China. The


re-

head nun and administrators were threatened that they would be held

sponsible for any future demonstrations by the nuns. During the six

months the Chinese were


activities.

there,

we were forbidden

to follow our religious

"On

February 11, 1990, the Chinese expelled forty-three nuns from

the abbey, including myself.


gious activities, to stay

We were ordered
us.

not to undertake any

reli-

home, and work


admit

in the fields,

and

all

other nun-

neries were forbidden to

"When

reached
ill.

my home on

the outskirts of Lhasa,

found

my

mother desperately

She had been made to stand naked on the

ice for

three days for shouting slogans against the Chinese for their policy of ban-

ning religion in Tibet.

My

sister

had served

nine-month term

in

Gutsa

prison for taking part in another demonstration.


"I

decided

must escape and


I

tell

the world what the Chinese are do-

ing to our people.

left

home

without telling

my

parents where

was go-

ing, for fear of bringing

more punishment down on them. I went


for

to Lhasa,

collected
there,
I

some money, and headed


five

Mt. Kailash

in

western Tibet.

From

escaped to Nepal with


I

nuns and eight monks.

We all wore lay

clothes.

reached Dharamsala in the

summer of

1990."

In

October 199 3,

fourteen nuns, serving

up

to seven-year sen-

tences in Drapachi prison, were given additional sentences of


years each for having recorded songs
prison.

up

to nine

on

a tape recorder

smuggled into the

The

songs were laments addressed to their parents and relatives.


in

Copies of the tapes were circulated among the underground movement


Lhasa.

164

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

The Root Lama of Tibet

is

the Panchen

Lama.

When

he

lived, prisoners

could be liberated immediately from

Tibetan prisons:

The barbaric Chinese eliminated him.

Our

food

is

like

pig food;
treated brutally,

We
But

are beaten

and

And

prison sentences imposed are limitless.


this will never

change the Tibetan people's perseverance:

It will

remain unfaltering.

There are bars on the windows,

And

iron

on the doors.

Inside the prisons of Tibet,

The Chinese beat

us.

Where

is

the freedom

we once enjoyed?
free.

Now

under the Chinese we no longer are

Sacred Conqueror,

The snowland of Tibet

is

your birthplace,

All of the Tibetans are like your children.

There are beatings without end;

Under the Chinese there

is

no freedom.

From my embittered mind


I

sing a sad song.

SANDY JOHNSON

6 5

The Chinese have transformed our land ofDharma


Into a giant prison;

The unending

torture which the Chinese have inflicted on us


us:

Could not destroy

We

did not

die.

The woman with

the shortest sentence

is

not due for release until

1998; the last one will complete her term in 2006.

6 6

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

ARISTOCRACY

Tibet's aristocrats trace


kings,

their origins directly to the Yarlung

who held their ancestral estates by grant from the government. Men
dressed in lavish
silk

and

women

robes; the
jewelry;

women braided
monks

turquoise and
a large retat

coral in their hair

and wore elaborate

and they employed

w
we

inue of servants.

They

also hired

to perform pujas

household shrines and to teach their children. Government


positions kept the nobility in Lhasa

most

of the year, but

all

had country
tests

estates,

where four-day picnics and archery con-

were held amid magnificent gardens. Guests were


girls.

served on silver plates and jade bowls and serenaded by chang

"When we heard

that His Holiness the Dalai

Lama

fled in 1959,

discussed the situation and decided to flee as well.

The Chinese had

caught our cousin's brother, and we thought that we had to go at once.

My mother was too old to travel; my daughter decided to stay behind with
her grandmother and look after the house.

"We

traveled by horse, but

we

weren't able to bring anything with

us, just a little food.

"We went
of Sikkim
is

first

to India for about a year, then to Sikkim

the queen
all

a relative
officials

where my husband taught Tibetan. But then


to

government
jobs,

were called to Dharamsala. Tibetan people needed

and the Indian government put them

work building

roads.

My

husband supervised the more than 600 people who were assigned
construction in the

to road

Chamba Valley

in India.

"We

lived in tents in a settlement village. Everything

we had came
difficult.

from donations from America and other countries. Life was


ing storms, stones would
fall

Durof

down from

the mountains, killing

many

the workers. In the meantime,


tion in Dharamsala.

my husband

had an administrative

posi-

We saw the Dalai Lama often, but usually in a group.


to France, near the Pyrennes,
girls.

We were always working.


"In 1962,
to teach

we left Dharamsala and went


after a

and look

group of Tibetan children: ten boys and ten

We

stayed there three years; then

we moved

to a larger city for another

five years.

We

all

were sent by the education department of the Tibetan

government-in-exile to a government school, where

my husband

taught

Tibetan language, culture, and

religion.

We

lived with the students in a

dormitory or boarding school, but

in a separate

apartment.

The expenses

were paid by the French government.

"The
a

idea for the school

came from

Frenchman who had come

to

Tibetan school in Musoori and seen the hardships the children were suf-

fering.

He went to see

the Dalai

Lama and

asked

him

if

he would consider

sending the children and teachers to France. His Holiness consented; the

6 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Frenchman and

his friend, a naval officer, presented the plan to the

French government. President


"In France, the children

De Gaulle agreed, and supported this idea.


would attend
classes in the

morning, then

thev would work in the

fields,

do the washing, cooking, everything. The

French students as
ing

well.

Teachers worked too, cutting firewood and washall

and cooking.

When

the twenty Tibetan students were grown and

had completed
"Finally

their studies,

we came

to Switzerland.

my daughter got out


we
I

of Tibet.

She

lives

here in Switzerland

now. But for twenty years

we had no contact.

When the Chinese loosened


my daughter
you
to trade in Tibet, 'Have

up

a little bit, in prison.

received news from a Nepalese trader that

was

kept asking anyone


I

who went

seen

my daughter?' until
still

found someone who knew her. He told

me that
work
in

she was

alive.
all

"The Chinese had put


in the fields.

members

of aristocratic families to

They were

sent to the river to fetch water,

and had

to

wade

even in the wintertime. They were treated very badly; they were even

for-

bidden to look up
years old,
years.

at the

Chinese.

My

daughter,

who was

only thirteen

was sent to prison, where she was kept


properly,

in forced labor for fifteen

She never did develop


is

and even today she has medical

problems. She
"I feel

married

now
Communist government,
do."

anger and hatred for the Chinese


country. I'm sorry, but
I

who harmed my

Mr. Norgay brought out a collection of embroidery done by Tibetan


students in the school in France.

They depicted scenes the

children

had
re-

witnessed in their villages in Tibet

when they were

little,

scenes that

mained

vivid in their

memories.

He

explained the stick figures: "This man's hands are chained to a

plank; his legs as well, spread-eagle.

The

red spot over the heart

is

for tar-

SANDY JOHNSON

69

The Nor gays

get practice,

and the people watching

are his neighbors.

The woman

standing behind

him

is

the mother,

who would be made

to dig the grave.

"In this one, these children are being forced to shoot their parents. In
this, a

young man

is

committing
tissue.

suicide."

There were perhaps

a dozen,

each carefully wrapped in

Mrs. Norgay added, "In Tibet,


cer; in

my husband
we
live

was a government

offi-

France, he was a teacher; here, he has to work in a factory. But


still left

com-

pared to the people

in Tibet,

extremely well."

The more
wondered
for their
if,

h e a r d about
I

life in exile,

the more

my heart broke.

in their place,

could

feel

the kindness toward the Chinese,

accumulation of collective negative karma, that so many Ti-

betans have learned to develop.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

MOVING ON

don't know

at

what exact moment

made

the decision to

move on

to California to continue

my research.

Several Tibetan Buddhist

centers in Los Angeles

draw

visiting teachers

and lamas from around the

world, and for

all

the traveling that lay ahead, a major airport was an im-

portant consideration. Los Angeles also held one of


sons.
I

my
into

was

in the
I

middle of putting books and


oracle

files

boxes when

remembered the Wanla

and something

about

my moving

to a place near a great ocean.

Had

the

seed been planted in

my mind
I

then, or

had

a seventh-cena perfect

tury spirit dwelling in the Himalayas sensed

would hear about

apartment that would become available immediately on


States? Are
is

my return to the
story?
If so,

we

really just characters in

some other writer's


I

who

the author?

Karma? Destiny?
fires,

It

seemed

was even willing to go to the


look for answers.

land of earthquakes,

and

mud

slides to

Soon after arriving


est established

in

Los Angeles,

flew north to see

my

stepdaughter Wendy. San Francisco's Green Gulch

Zen Center is

the old-

Zen

center in the United States, and

Wendy

has lived

there for twenty years,

many of them

as

head gardener. Married, mother of

two, she has prematurely gray hair, which was


a face deeply tanned

now snow-white and framed

from her years outdoors.

We

spent the weekend strolling through her gardens, visiting the


hall).

zendo (meditation

Wendy told me

that the standing life-size figure

of Jizo Bodhisattva, with the uplifted big toe, represents active

wisdom,

the one
other.

who

guides unborn children and travelers from one world to anlis-

The

seated Manjushri Bodhisattva, in the center of the room,

tens with settled compassion and awakens


rests

wisdom

in those

whose gaze

upon him, she


I

explained.

told

Wendy about my travels to Ladakh and of the terrible three days


I

and nights of my demons. "One of them,"


She listened
caringly,

said,

"came dressed

as you."

her deep brown eyes reminiscent of her father's

and

my son Billy's, and said, "It stands to reason, since I'm the Buddhist in
are yours."

the family and there you were in a Buddhist country writing a book on

Buddhism. The demons, though,


the

With
young

a gentleness
girl,

born of

bond we had created when Wendy was


about

we explored our
step, she felt,

feelings
for

my divorce from her father.


"And don't
forget,

It

was a necessary

my own path.

each of us has our

own karma,"

she

re-

minded me.
She had grown wise and compassionate
in this

garden of hers.

was eager

to see

Lobsang Lhalungpa

again.
I

Tenzin Wandrak
I

had given

me

package to deliver to him, and


I

called soon after


by.

re-

turned to Santa Fe to ask Lobsang when

could

come

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

He greeted me as an old
with great care to

friend, delighting in
I

my travels and listening


It

my

reactions to the people

had met.

was summer
Cristos,

when

last

had

visited Lobsang's

Santa Fe home.

The Sangre de

dwelling place of the Native Americans' ancestors, had been as thickly


forested as the foothills of the Dhauladhars, where the deities of the East
dwell; now, the

Aspens had turned

gold.

"Quaking Aspens," they

are

called, for the flattened leafstalks that catch the least breeze, causing the

leaves to flutter.

The mountainside

glittered in the afternoon sun, as

if

robed

in

ceremonial dress studded with tiny mirrors.


array of birds gathered

As before, an
minding

on the

railing of his deck, re-

me now

of the flocks of the small,

young monks that swarmed

the hillsides of Dharamsala.


I

told

Lobsang

had been extending

my

meditations by only min-

utes at a sitting, tentatively, and with a certain degree of distrust.

Most

of

the time

felt like

one of those

slugs stuck
slow,
I

on Ani Gomchen's
I

steps.

Would my progress always be this


hard?

asked, or was

perhaps trying too

"A person recognizes his spiritual potential

when he

looks at the

problems of

his existence

growth, old
at
life.

age, sickness, death

and
is

sees

that these are things he cannot change. But


attitude, his

what he can change

his

own

own way of looking

"And

that's only the


is

minimum

level of spirituality.

But when true


than his

spiritual life

begun, one becomes concerned with

much more

own

growth. As growth takes place in the spiritual realm, in the realm of

consciousness, a person widens his concerns


ily,

not
and

just to his limited


if

fam-

but to society and the entire sentient world. Even

he

is

not in a posi-

tion to

do anything,

at least

he has a

moment when he has this sense that,


I

oh,

God, there

are so

many

suffering beings,

have the potential to


I

develop

my spiritual

strength and vision and power so that one day

may

SANDY JOHNSON

17

become one

of those great masters


is

who can help others. This vision has

to

do with the dharma. Dharma


it

my source of spiritual

growth. Eventually
is

opens out into universal concern and compassion. That

the heart of

spirituality.

"It

is

not enough to

say,

Tm a religious person/ or Tm meditating,'


if it is

or

Tm worshiping in a temple,'

only self-concern.
for oneself to
is

To pray

for

hap-

piness for oneself, to

want God's blessing

be someone im-

portant: this, from a Buddhist point of view,


simple.

materialism. Pure and

"On
out

the other hand, a layman, a poor man, sitting in a corner withmaterial support,
'I

much

may have an

extraordinarily sensitive
is

mind,

and

thinks,

don't care

how poor I am;

I'm surviving; but there


is

so

much
spir-

suffering in the rest of the world.' This


itually so as to

way one may want


is

to

grow

be of help to these suffering beings. That


is

spirituality.

So

you see the distinction? That


I

what Buddhism teaches."


all

thought of the suffering of Dolma and Dr. Choedak and

those

still

in Tibet,

and wondered how

my

tears could ease their pain.

Or how

the meditations of ten yogis sitting twenty years sealed off in caves change

the world.

"Many people
enment
others
is

in the

West do not understand


it is

that attaining enlighttrue task of helping


to

not

itself

an end;

only a beginning.

The

lies

ahead.

The

bodhisattva
I

vow

is,

'I

do everything possible
all

achieve enlightenment so
beings,

can work to
their

alleviate suffering of

sentient

and help them to achieve


took, the

own

enlightenment.' That was the


took,

vow that Buddha

vow that many other buddhas before him


are taking

and the vow that many others now

and

will take in

the future.

Notice that we say buddhas, not just a Buddha.


sentient beings many,

Out

of the great

mass of
it is

many have

achieved buddhahood. Therefore,

for the practitioner to recognize this as their source of inspiration.

You can

IJ4

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

achieve the same thing and

become

like

them,

join the

army

of the great

masters

who work

for

humanity.
a basic education

"Buddhism provides
environment

about

life:

Life

and the

living

are precious, fragile, requiring care


for spiritual

and nurturing. Humans

have the truest potential


understanding of
life

development, which includes a deep

and the environment, universal concern, and com-

passion. Unbridled quests for material wealth

and sensual

gratification

only feed an insatiable craving for

more and cause

serious destabilization

and

distress.

"Buddhism makes people responsible

for their

own lives and

for

what

they do to others; turning away from the mentality that says,

'I

can do

what

like

and I don't have

to concern myself with


this totally integrated

its

impact on society or
life.

the ecology.'
is

Buddhism has

view of
it

a protection

from the impact of disease when


get sick

comes.

A view that When we un-

derstand

why we

of course, there are so

many

factors

if

a per-

son

says, 'I'm so sick;

I'm so miserable,' then the


fear,

illness

becomes worse.

The more
"But

confusion, depression, and


if

the

more

suffering.
I

this

same person

says, 'Of course, sickness naturally comes.

may have done something wrong


there
pain,
is

wrong
is

habits,

wrong
is

diet, or

maybe

some other cause.


I

In any case,

now that

sickness

here,
in

have the

how do

remain calm?' that


the mind.

where the training

meditation

comes

in. It frees

When the mind is free and calm, it has an imand


are benefited in

pact on the body apart from conscious efforts to face the problem. People

who

practice take these things very seriously

many

different ways, in terms of

overcoming physical

illness,

mental

distress,

emotional prostration.
"Appreciating the fragility of
disillusionment. There
is

life

protects one from false

hope and
to live

no guarantee anyway that you're going

long enough to enjoy your wealth. You might pop off suddenly because of

SANDY JOHNSON

J 5

1 f

^4

!#"'

H
wH.
WR

41
-i-4

mHM

Hf

;
1

1
-.

zLJ
\

WziL,

^IS
if
1

^
to sustain

Lobsang Lhalungpa

a heart attack.
this body,

think

we should

seek only the materials

we need

and

fill

up

that other half with spiritual devotion.

Then you will


Mate-

have the combination of a well balanced material and


rialism should
this

spiritual life.

be only a support

for

vour spiritual growth. You can attain

balance as long as you have that clear in your mind, as long as you
that you can use this extraordinary vehicle for spiritual purposes.

know

The Buddha's Middle Way


had never

avoids both pure materialism and self-indul-

gence on the one hand, and drastic self-denial on the other."


Realizing
I

really

interviewed Lobsang,

asked

him now

about his early

years.

"I

was born

in

1924 into a good family

not

that rich

but
on

good

family.

My
THE

father was very learned

and had

a great influence

me

7 6

O O K

OF TIBETAN ELDERS

and

my

personal
five.

life.

After a brief secular education,


I

became

monk

at

the age of

For a while

continued secular education with

my schoolI

teachers for different subjects, but at the age of nine or ten

began to

study more closely with

my monastic teachers.
I

'At the age of sixteen


ter,
I

became a monk official

the

youngest. Soon

af-

was appointed to the

staff of

the grand secretariat at the Potala palace,

an

office directly responsible to the Dalai

Lama and to the regent. The regent


still

ran the country on behalf of the Dalai

Lama, who was


staff
I

a minor.

"Fortunately for me, as a member of the


Holiness's two tutors,

had easy access

to His

and

for

many

years received advanced teachings

from them.

also studied with other lamas, including a great

woman,

Jet-

sun Lochen of Shukseb Hermitage and Nunnery.

"My background
sis

in secular

and monastic education seemed the ba-

for the regent later to

appoint

me to the new assignment as director for

the Tibetan and Buddhist studies in the Indian Himalayan towns of Darjeeling

and Kalimpong. The year was 1947. The government decided to


of students to the

add

number

group of private students already

in the

modern
ization.

schools in India
I

the
I 1

first

cautious step toward Tibet's modernfor three weeks.

left for India, traveling

on horseback

This was a

turning point in

my life.
little,

was not to return to Tibet.


ran the education program with utmost devo-

"From 1947
tion.

to 1951,

The pay was

benefits none,

and the

life lonely.

My

students

numbered more than

hundred. Not

only Tibetan, but Bhutanese,

Sikkimese, and Bhotias [local Tibetans] as well. Then, under pressure

from the Chinese,

my

students were called back. For myself,

refused to

comply with the cabinet's order to return and report to new


painful decision, for consequences
for

duty, a

most

would be
1

serious,

both

for

myself and

my family in Lhasa.
of China.

In 1950

and 1951,

lost

my country to the massive

Red Army

SANDY JOHNSON

17

"During the

early years in exile,

faced lack of

employment and

means
ter in

of support for myself


life

and

my new family. At that point a new chapnumerous


foreigners: historians,

my

began.

started to teach

scholars, linguists,

and anthropologists who, because the Chinese would


visit

not permit them to

Tibet,

came

to Kalimpong,

where

lived.

"Since the regent had rejected

my

1948 proposal to

set

up

Bud-

dhist monastic university in Kalimpong, His

Eminence Dardo Rinpoche,


I

abbot of Bodh Gaya and

Ghoom

monasteries, and

decided to

set

up

the Buddhist Cultural Center there.


cal

We

also organized a school for lo-

Tibetan children

who were

already receiving free education (and inschool,

doctrination) at the Chinese

Communist

funded and managed

by Beijing. Before long, the children joined our charitable school. That

made

the Chinese headmaster furious. This was our cultural challenge

to the Chinese!

"By 1956, the Indian government realized that Tibet represented a


great loss to them: with the Chinese border so close, India felt very vul-

nerable.

Although they

still

maintained friendly relationships with China,

they were nervous. India could do nothing for Tibetans politically or militarily,

but wanted to help the Tibetan people

in

commercial and cultural


office close to the

pursuits.

The

Indian government set up a


in

new cultural

Tibetan border to help Tibetans

whatever way they could, to give them


to wear.

some

relief

food

to eat

and clothes

Thousands had taken


it.

this

terrible

journey and were seriously run

down and weakened from

Some

were suffering from

TB

and

all

kinds of health problems; and they pubI

lished material in our language to send back to Tibet.


a

was asked to

start

Tibetan radio program from

New

Delhi to inform Tibetans in and out-

side of Tibet

about conditions

in India

and

in the rest of the world;

how
pro-

India and other world aid agencies were helping the Tibetans.

The

7 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

gram

also included topics

concerning education,

religion,

and our

diffi-

culties in the political arena.


"I started

the Tibetan Broadcast in 1956, and


I

it

continued as almost
assistant,

a single-handed operation for three years.

worked without an

without taking weekends

off. It

soon became very popular throughout Ti-

bet, so popular that everybody

began buying radios and batteries so they


I

could listen to the program.


for fifteen years,

The Chinese tried to jam it.

ran the program

devoting

all

my spare time to helping Tibetan refugees.


Lama and
the ministers
I

"In meetings with His Holiness the Dalai

during 1959 and 1960,

we

discussed

many things. I emphasized what

felt

most
bet,

strongly:
a

'We

are

now

facing an unprecedented catastrophe in Tipolitical situation


is

and

trauma

in exile.

Our

hopeless, with

no na-

tion supporting our cause.

Nothing should discourage or

distract us.

We

need to rebuild our


us
first

lives, re-create

our religious and cultural heritage. Let

and foremost
vital

establish monasteries, nunneries,

and

schools.

With-

out these

foundations, nothing else can save us. These institutions

should serve as the nucleus of our resurrection as a nation/


"In 1970,
1

decided to

move with my

family to Canada.

taught at

the University of British

Columbia

for a year.

Then

began to translate
I

Buddhist
lished
all

texts. I've translated

many important

books, but

haven't pubto the


I

of them. Tibetan

Buddhism was being introduced

West,
to

but with so

much

misinformation, so

much

distortion, that

wanted

wait until people

had

a proper introduction to the

fundamental teachings

before publishing serious doctrinal books.

"While the
the good that

loss of

Tibet

is

great to us Tibetans
is

and

also to the world,

came out

of this tragedy

that

many

of the great teachers


is

escaped with their followers, the monks


reestablished itself in India

which

how Buddhism

and

partly in Nepal.

SANDY JOHNSON

17

"But

believe that

when you

lose the people


sensitivity

ture, religion,

and natural honesty and

language, then Tibet gone.


their
is

cul-

Ti-

bet

is

a spiritual essence, the living

dharma!
in

"We're gradually losing that essence, both


that's very sad.

and out

of Tibet.

And

What will

survive? Certainly there will


is

be Tibetan people,

but

how much
"That
is

of that essence of Tibet will survive


are:

anybody's guess.
it is

how things

impermanent.

Still,

without saying that


is

hopeless,

we have

to go forward

and do whatever

best for us and for our

children."
I

told
I

Lobsang that while

was

in India,
I

people

and

spirits

kept
didn't

telling

me must
is

find a teacher.
it.

And

felt

probably should. But

know how to go about


"It

very hard to find a good teacher.

think

we

will see

more and
self-ap-

more Eastern gurus coming to the West, and,


pointed masters
will

unfortunately,

some

emerge

locally.

People from India or Tibet

who were
own

not recognized as good teachers and

who had no
is

following in their

community

or areas see that the

West

opening, and they

come with

their titles or their connection to

somebody and

declare themselves a

gum
is

or a lama.

They

are publicized

and develop
are not
is

a following.

That

is

the prob-

lem now I'm not saying that there

good lamas, but

a teacher

more than

a learned person.
all

teacher

very different.

embody

the essence of

the teachings he has


is

A teacher has to learned. A learned man


service.

can give a message, but he

only a messenger; he brings the message that

he has read

in

books or learned from other lamas. That's one


is

I'm

not excluding that. But Buddhism

much more
them
in

than a message. Bud-

dhism

is

an intimacy between teacher and pupils. Teachers work with stu-

dents, sharing their ups


is

and downs,

telling

terms of dharma: 'This


avoid.'

the way you work, and these are the

pitfalls

you
to

"But there are a

lot of

people

who want

make

their lives

more

8 O

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

meaningful. People honestly seeking a simple truth, applying

it,

and going
or shave

on about

their lives.
is

don't expect anybody to change their

name

their head. This

not necessary. Change has to take place inside. Bud-

dhism doesn't

care

how many
is

people convert to Buddhism.

It

cares only

how each

individual

benefited."

When
Of the

flew

east

stopped

in

Boston to see Mark,

my eldest son.
He goes
stopped

three boys, he has always

been the most

spiritually curious.

to church regularly,
ships, for

and he meditates. He

also has trouble with relationfirst

which

am

quick to take blame. For the

time,

now

to consider that

maybe my

children's

karma

is

not necessarily sub-

sumed by mine.
I

gave

him

copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and told


listened, fascinated, then asked
if

him about Sogyal Rinpoche. He


meant
I

that

would improve

mv

relationship with

my

mother,

whom
I

he had
always

always defended.
felt

We had had conversations like that before, and


to

betrayed, as though his loyalty belonged with me. Couldn't he see

how unfair, how cold, how impossible my mother was


The
issue

me?

my father's death, my mother controlled the purse strings. She did not feel the need to support my writing, as my father had, or my habit of marrying and divorcing. Mark
was often money. Ever since
pointed out that his grandmother
I

is

a very

independent woman, and that

am

her worst nightmare: an unmarried

career that does not support her.


write

woman determined to pursue a (Me to my mother: "I would have to

Gone with
the

the

Wind

to get out of debt!"


job.")

My

mother: "Then write

Gone with

Wind. Or get a

SANDY JOHNSON

EDUCATING YOUNG MONK

Buddhist Temple in

Geshe Tharchin is the abbot of the Rashi Gempil Ling Kalmuk New Jersey. He was born in Lhasa in 1929, the Year of
full

the Water Dog. His

name

is

Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang

Tharchin.

"Now

am seventy-five
its

years older.

entered

the Sera monastery at eight. At


eight thousand teachers

peak, Sera had

more than

and

disciples studying the ancient


six

books of Buddhist wisdom. In one house, there might be

hundred to

thousand monks.
were mischievous. Our house tutor would send

"We young monks


us

up

to the rock
spring,

cliffs

behind the monastery with buckets to fetch water


for hours,

from the

and we would dawdle

throwing rocks.

We liked
the long

to tuck our feet into our maroon-colored robes

and

slide

down

boulders until the cloth was ripped to shreds.


trick

On our way back, a favorite


gate.

was to put tacks on the path leading to the front


liked to walk barefoot,

Some
wall

of the

monks

and we would hide behind the


race away, robes flapping

and wait

for a victim.

Then we would

and

flying in the

wind, before he would catch

us.

"We also had a game


a kind of a

called pakda,

which means an arrow of dough,

dough

ball.

was very good

at firing

dough

balls at

our teachers,

especially in the

middle of chanting, when their mouths were open. Then

they'd begin choking and spitting, and


til

we would
stick.

roar with laughter

unter-

the housemaster

came

at us

with his

"My house
rible goof-off

proved to be a very good scholar's house, but


a rather

was a

and had

bad reputation. They were about to

give

up

on

me and let me bow out before the toughest course of study, when a glorious master, Phabongka Rinpoche, came into my life.
"Phabongka Rinpoche was
a reincarnation of a

Khenpo

of the small

monastery atop the famous rock formation, which was about three miles

from our monastery.

It

was there a minister, Tonmi Sambhota, created an


lasts to this day.

alphabet and grammatical system that

"Rinpoche's voice was incredibly powerful, and he had an uncanny


ability to relate to his

audience. But his most famous tool was his humor.

Public discourses could sometimes go on for ten hours or


break,

more without

and many people would begin to nod

off.

Then he would tell

one of

his jokes

and

startle

the daydreamers.
of meditation in a small cell built

"He spent long periods

around the
a high

mouth

of a cave in the rock formation.

The

central

chamber had

vaulted ceiling, in the center of which was an odd natural triangle that

looked exactly

like

the shape of one of the mystic worlds described in our

secret teachings.

"In the corner of the cave, an underground spring flowed, and above

SANDY JOHNSON

8 J

it

was another natural drawing,

this

one

just like the third eye that

we

see

painted on the forehead of one of our female buddhas.

We

believe this

third eye stands for the spiritual understanding in one's heart,

and that

the cave was the


"It

home
I

of a dakini
first

a sort of

Buddhist angel.
a wild teenager,
I

was here that

met Phabongka Rinpoche. As


Rinpoche had

had the

distasteful job of quartermaster.

just returned

from a

teaching tour, and I was sent with firewood and supplies.

When he saw me he
'

put his hand on my head and said, 'Now this one looks like a bright boy! From
that day

on

felt

had received his blessing, and with it some special power to


I

pursue

my

studies.

suddenly realized the preciousness of


to be a student at
I

human

life,

and

how fortunate I was


teries in

one of the greatest Buddhist monasI

the world.

Why was
I

wasting

my time? What if
to

suddenly died?
for the

"In
efit

my heart made
and
others.

a decision to
I

master the teachings

ben-

of myself

remember going

my

house teacher, Geshe

Namdrol, and declaring

my change of heart to him. He laughed. 'Now the


The day you
beis

bad boy

is

going to study and become a master geshe!


is

come

a geshe

the day

become

the

Ganden Tripa!' The Ganden Tripa

one of the highest

religious personages in Tibet.

He

holds the throne of

Lord Tsongkapa, attained only by reaching the highest rank of geshe, the
lharampa, and then serving as head of one of the two colleges devoted to
the study of the secret teachings.
"I

got angry and swore to

him

that

would not only become

a geshe,

but

lharampa geshe
I

as well (a rank

which he never could

reach). In

my

later years, after

had passed the lharampa examinations with highest


to ask

honors, Geshe

Namdrol used

me

a little sheepishly

if I

would help

him

pick a good topic for the day's debates.

"Before
It is

my final exams, Phabongka Rinpoche passed from this earth.

our custom to cremate the body of a holy person and preserve the

8 4

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

ashes in a small shrine, and

I still

remember the day when they brought

Rinpoche's remains back to his mountain hermitage.


structed,

shrine was con-

and

a great

many

of us

monks came

to pay our respects

and

make our

final offerings.

"We
since
tually
it is

Buddhists believe that although the body dies, the mind


not destructible,
into a
like physical

matter

continues on and evenwomb if you are to be


their disciples

comes

new body,

within vour mother's

born

as a

human.

We believe

that great saints can select their birth, and

that out of compassion thev will choose to return

and teach

again

if

this will benefit

them. Thus

it is

custom

for the disciples to seek

the help of

some

great wise

men and

go out to find the child

who

is

the

reincarnation of their teacher.

"A reincarnation of Phabongka Rinpoche was discovered in Darjeeling, India,

and

is

now a promising voung monk at the new Sera monastery


manv buddhas
and that
if

in

south India.

"We
will

believe that there are

in the universe,

thev each can appear on one or more planets at the same time,

this
is

help the beings

who

live there.
all life;

We

believe that a

buddhahood
all

the ultimate evolution of

that a

buddha can know

things, but

does not have

all

power.

The Buddha

did not create the universe, for ex-

ample

(this

we have done by the


all

force of our

own

past deeds,

good and

bad), nor can he take

our sufferings awav from us bv himself


past actions,

these

too

we

believe

come from our own

and must be stopped

b\ ourselves.

"By studying and practicing the teachings of the Buddha, we ourselves

can become buddhas, as can every living being. Therefore when we


directly,
all

speak of enlightened beings appearing to a saint

we mean

that

any being

who has removed

all

his suffering

and gained

knowledge can

SANDY JOHNSON

8 5

appear to any one of

us, in

any form that

may

help us to reach this

ulti-

mate

state ourselves.

'At fifteen,
thirty years old.

started the actual training,

which continued
degree in 1953.
I

until

was

finished

my Lharam Geshe
for the final

"When
so
for

it

came time
that
I

Geshe examination,
I

had

to read

many books
two weeks

developed an eye problem.

couldn't even see light

very painful,

some

sort of infection

from the paper.


I

got

unbelievably

sick.

My mind
I

became

crazy with fever.

imagined people

coming out

of their houses, dancing, playing, reciting poetry.

And I saw all

these different creatures.

couldn't study, so

my

teacher told

me

to go

home,
"I

two-day

trip

by horse. This happened several times.

wasn't frightened.

We had been

taught to study karma.

The

re-

sults of

our actions can't be avoided; these were obstacles, blockages that

were disturbing me. Overcoming them helped

me

to

become

stronger.
All of

"The

final

examination was held

in Lhasa, in the

main temple.

the scholars from the largest monasteries were gathered there.


ask us questions
til

They would

and we would have to give answers from the morning un-

ten o'clock at night. His Holiness,


I

who

is

a great scholar,
I

was

there.

By

extraordinary luck,

was given highest honors. After that

automatically
finished there,

went
I

to the Tantric College at


as

Gyume monastery. When


afraid that the

worked

an administrator.
I'd

"For several years


killing the scholars

been

Chinese would begin

and monks. They had been talking to the monks and

geshes, trying to get

them
I

to publicly criticize the Dalai


say

Lama.

If

they

were to question me,


kill

would have to

what
then

believed,

and they would

me.

If

said

what they wanted


for

thing

I'd

worked

and believed

in

me to, my whole life long.


I'd

be going against every-

So

in 1959,

chose

to go to India.

"Five students and

traveled

on

foot,

without shoes, over the moun-

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Geshe Lobsang Tharchin

tain to India.

The snow was hard high


softer,

up, but

when we began our descent

and the snow would get


walk.
feet

we'd sink into the snow and be unable to

With

the melting snow, the water would be icy cold, and people's
frostbitten.

would get

Some

lost their toes later. It

took us almost a
set

month

to go over the

mountains from Lhasa to

India.

We'd

up

a tent

to sleep at night, or
stay in.

sometimes there would be

little

farmhouses we could
in a little cave.

At other times we would have to find empty places


I

The

only thing

carried

was food and fire-making equipment.

Do you call
of

them

bellows? That was very important. In Tibet,

we make them out

goatskin.

We'd

use a stone to strike the spark.


soldiers in the distance.

"We

saw Chinese

We
it

had decided that

it

would be better to get

killed

on the road than

to stay in Lhasa.

Seven or

eight times they spotted us from airplanes. Twice

was very

close.

They

SANDY JOHNSON

shot at us. Rat-tat-tat, like that.

Some

of the yaks were killed, but

none

of

the people were hurt.


see us so well.

We covered ourselves with blankets so they couldn't We would find the casings from the shells and use them for
to

candle holders.
"I

went

first

Assam,

in India.

Then

to Delahousie,

and eventually

on

to Calcutta to the university there, to teach

and

translate.

Nehru

agreed that the young Tibetans needed an education, so he arranged several schools for

them. His Holiness asked


I

me

to teach in
I

one of these
to learn En-

schools. After several years,


glish, so
I

told His Holiness that

wanted

came

to the United States, here to

New Jersey, in

1972.

A friend

had come
Holiness.

earlier to start a monaster}'

and requested

a teacher

from His

"Buddhist philosophy teaches that when you change your body

When the consciousness goes to a bad place, this is a result of karma. Only karma. My previous life must
[die],

vour body's consciousness continues.

have been a good one, because I'm very happv

this

time around,

manv

good things have come

to

me.
to take
as
I

"Dharma has many levels. Every day I have


want
to teach the people

it

from the

top.

who want

to learn as

much

can teach. There

are not too

many members

of this temple

fifteen or

twenty families, a

hundred

in all

but they
me
yet
if I

are devoted." a teacher;


her.
is
I

He
one,
I

asked

had

told

him

did not.

If

was to have

had not

found him or

"How
shorter.

to find a qualified teacher

long process, but

can make

it

Find a teacher

who

has strong compassion for his followers. Secit is

ond, he must be highly trained in Buddhist teachings, otherwise


entertainment, hollow. Third, he should have patience."
if

only

He laughed. 'And

he doesn't have patience, then he should have courage."

Geshe Tharchin continued:

"We are refugees from Tibet, driven out


B E TA A

8 8

THE BOOK OF

ELDERS

of our Shangri-la bv the

Chinese armies. The


his

halls of
I

Gyalrong house,
played

where Phabongka Rinpoche gained


cm Veshe Lobsang, have been

knowledge and

my

tricks

bombed
some

out and burned.


strange skeleton

The Rinpoche's

mountain hermitage stands

like

only the front

wall of stone remains erect, for

all

the rest were ripped the

down by

the Chi-

nese for firewood.


tion cave

The monk's

cell at

mouth
fills

of his wonderful medita-

was smashed to rubble, which so


it

the opening that no one

can even find

now.

"As Buddhists,

we Tibetans do not

feel

anger at the Chinese, only a


at

deep sadness

at the loss of

our country and traditions and


relatives. In a
life is,

the deaths of

more than

a million of

our friends and


short

way we have become

more aware

of

how precious and


are
still

and how we should practice


too
is

religion while

we

alive to

do

so.

Our loss

perhaps the greater


first

world's gain, as teachings will


I

now reach
all

the outer world for the

time.

pray these teachings will help us

to defeat our real enemies

the emo-

tions of like

and

dislike

and ignorance within our own minds."

SANDY JOHNSON

LESSON

IN

JUDGMENT

had asked each


and
I

elder I'd

met

for suggestions of others


list. I

might

talk to,

was developing quite an impressive

also kept checking

back with Lobsang Lhalungpa, to ask

his opinion.

Often he thought of

someone

too,

and had another name and address


Back
in

for

me.

Los Angeles

contacted a teacher everyone

seemed

to hold in high esteem.


I

He

is

called Geshe-la.

He

was shy when

reached

him by phone; he was not


in a book.
I

sure that

he was important enough to be


was okay,
I

told

him

that

it

wasn't important enough to be writing one.

He

laughed and agreed to see me.

A teaching came

in

an unexpected way the day

met with

Geshe-la. Before our interview, we'd had lunch at an outdoor cafe near the

studio where he meets with students. At the adjoining table sat four

men

bantering back and forth about business in voices loud enough to

all

but

drown out Geshe-la's

soft,

accented voice.

The men spoke cynically

in the

hard-edged way people do when they are trying to top each other's
I

stories.

strained to hear
all

Geshe and

tried to block out these other voices,

my
I

mind

the while madly judging the men.


waitress

The

had forgotten
I

to bring milk for Geshe-la's tea,

and

went inside

to get some.

When came back, one of the men was looking


his

at Geshe-la,

commenting on

monk's

robes.

"Must be hot

in that

getup," he said.

"What

are you?"

Geshe-la smiled happily and explained he was a Tibetan monk, and


that no,
it

wasn't terribly hot today. "Quite pleasant."

He

chuckled as

fumed.
After a while the
said, "I

men
sir, I

got

up

to leave.

One

stopped at our table and

must

tell

you,

couldn't take

my eyes off of you. You have such


The

a spiritual aura, I've

never seen anything quite so extraordinary. ..."

Geshe-la beamed, extended his hand, and introduced himself.

man mentioned

that he

had

a friend

who

did business with the Chinese

and made frequent

trips.

"They're changing, you know.


I

The new guard

wants to put an end to


country back."
Still

Communism.

bet in

five,

ten years you'll get your

smiling, Geshe-la's eyes

had misted

over.

He

took the man's


full

hand again and thanked him

profusely.

The man's

face

was

of wonder.

His whole demeanor had changed. Slightly embarrassed, he suddenly

bowed
I

like a

schoolboy and then rushed

off.
I

had witnessed

a transformation of a sort that

would have sworn

could not have been possible.

"

wa s

orn

in

943

in eastern Tibet,

on a farm about twelve miles

from the town of Chamdo. Not

a big farm,

but we had a number of cows,

SANDY JOHNSON

yaks, deer,

dzomos, donkeys, goats, horses.

My father was a good and reliat a time,

gious man.

He would go to the local monaster}; Ganden Jambaling, which


months
no matter how
at the farm.

means

'land of love/ for teachings for

busy things were


a very kind lady,

We were a very close family. My mother, such

was quite young

only

sixteen

when I was born

yet she
criti-

understood

how much my

father

needed

a spiritual

path and never

cized him. I'm very lucky to have had such good and gentle parents.
"I

was the oldest of seven, eight including the one we

lost.

When

was

six,

my

father

and mother brought

a teacher for

me

from the

monastery, an older learned monk.

He

lived with us for a year

and

a half.

During those eighteen months

learned

many of the

sutras

by memory.

"When
the

was eight,
first

my

father asked

me

if I

wanted to go to the

monastery. Most

sons go to the monastery unless they are needed in


eldest

home

then the next

would

go.

Since

wasn't needed,
I

chose

to go.
a

My uncle, my father's brother, was already a monk, so


first

could share

room with him. The

few weeks were hard.

I'd

think about

my

mother and
I

my home. Many of us boys were homesick."


at

marveled

the stories

heard time and again of the incredible

knowledge imparted to the people when they were only children; the
time, attention, and devotion of the families and teachers to the spiritual

education of the young. Gelek Rinpoche would later explain that the reason for the focus on children
prints in the
is

because

it is

easier to

change karmic im-

young before habitual patterns


of

are formed.

"The founder

Ganden monastery," Geshe-la continued, "was


master and founder of the
I

Lama Tsongkapa,
Gelugpa
sect:

a great fourteenth-century

the emanation of Manjushri.

studied there for twentya break.

three years, every day, winter and

summer, without

Sometimes we
a

would be invited
place to
stay.

to a benefactor's

house and we'd be given food and

192

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"My
invasion.
session.
I
I

studies
left

would have been finished

in

1960 but
I

for the

Chinese

from college on March


close to
session.

14, after

had gone

to the evening
I

One monk

me
He

in the
said,

dormitory asked where

was going.

said

was going to

'If

you

are going away,

you should go

now, because the Chinese soldiers gave

will

soon come into the monastery.'


It

He

me some
"My

light clothes

and

a coat.

was very

difficult to leave

my

robes.

practice pecha, study


all

book and

daily practice book, plus

some-

thing to eat, was

we

took.

And

barley flour for tsampa. Three days

we

were in the Himalayas.

The

strongest person

went

first,

to

make

narrow

footpath through the snow, and one by one

we

followed.

It

was very dan-

gerous because you can sink in the


'At night

snow
snow
to keep

we dug

a hole in the

warm. There was always

the fear that the Chinese would chase us with machine guns from their
airplanes.

From

a distance

could see them shooting and crowds running

in fear. Finally

we

crossed the Himalayas to the Indian border, where the


it

grass

was new and

was warm. People

in the countryside

welcomed us

and gave us food.


"I

went

to Delahousie until 1962,

and finished

my degree.

His Holiin

ness had asked the

monks

to continue studying just as they

had done

the monastery.
"I

heard nothing of

my family until

1981,

when

the government-insister,

exile sent a fact-finding delegation to Tibet.

They found my

and

learned then that

my

father

and uncle had passed away under the hard-

ship of Chinese rule. Since


tured, but
it

my

family were farmers, they were not torto get food; they were of the

was hard

for

them

more than

one million Tibetans who


"In

lost their lives

under the Chinese occupation.

some

areas of Tibet

now you

find

more Chinese than Tibetans


obliterate Tibet, the

some

places twice as many.

As part of the plan to

SANDY JOHNSON

19

Chinese are changing the names of the


mountains.
"In 1963 His Holiness asked

cities,

the streets

even the

me

to go to Sussex, England, to be the

teacher for Tibetan refugee students sent there.


airport

When we

arrived at the

we were overwhelmed by

television

cameras and excited newspa-

per reporters

who had
surprised
in the

never seen Tibetan children before.

"What
dia

me the most was all the many lights at night.


often.

In InI

we were

mountains and didn't go into town very

had

never seen so

many lights.
when
I I

"Some
cars that

years later,

traveled to the United States,

it

was the

amazed me. And


I

had never seen the ocean before


it.

came

to

California.

had only read about

There were so many people


I

at the

beaches; everyone seemed happy, taking things easy.

thought

how

verv

good

it is

that the people have so


as a teacher,
I I

much freedom
so

here.

'At

first,

had

a very difficult

time communicating with

my Western

students.
skills.

had many ideas and

many

things to

say,

but

lacked language

In those days, people really of

wanted to hear the


tell

dharma and would appreciate even one word


Sometimes, one word
is

dharma I could

them.

like

having a whole session of dharma teaching.


I

When

think about those days, reflect on those early retreats,

am quite
get to-

amazed.

Somehow

the students were able to understand.

We'd

gether and chant, or do prostrations, paying respect to the Buddha,

Dharma, Sangha. And

would

give instruction

m meditations.
in the

'As to the difficulty of practicing


lifestyles, it's

dharma

West, with

its

busy-

not just in the West that people are busy. Everywhere


to.
is

in the
is

world there are families to be taken care of and jobs to go

That

not

such a big obstacle.

The problem

see here in the

West

that people

have no patience. They want


can be accomplished in
just a

results right

now! They think the dharma


great concentration
it

few

vears.

Even with

19

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

takes

mam
it.

cars of practice to gain positive results. This impatience

is

the

biggest obstacle for Westerners.

So many

start to practice,

but they soon

drop

They

lose energy
all

because they didn't practice long enough to see

results.

People
to

want to get something, they want some power, but they


like a miracle.

want

it

come
fly

A miracle

is

not such a big deal. Even


this
is

if

someone can

around the room or read minds,


is

not a big deal.


is

"What
made

in fact

a big deal, a person

and what we need most,

to get rid of

our negative mind.


has

If

wants to see
just

how much

progress he or she

in practice,

then they should

check to see

how

their

mind
If
is

has changed from beginning the dharma practice up to the present.


there
is

no change, then they


if it

are not practicing correctly.

The dharma

pure, but

isn't

practiced correctly there will


if

be no

positive result.

If

there

is

a positive change,
is

there

is

less desire, less

anger and hatred and


is

more calmness, that

the mark of good practice. That


to

a useful result.

It

may not look like a miracle


ter person,

show off to
is

others,

but

if

one becomes a betIt

more

positive,
if

then that

the right result.

works. But for

many

Westerners,
else.

the result doesn't the same thing

come

immediately, they go try

something

And do

all

over again.

"There are some people who


without practicing the dharma.
reason
is

live very

happy and successful

lives

Many people ask me how this can be. The


in this life, they did in a past
life.

that though they

do not practice

lifetime,

and that created the good karma

for their present


life

But

if

they

don't continue to create positive actions in this


tive deeds,

but instead do nega-

they

will

experience the result of the bad karma in their next

lifetime."

"Geshe-la, here in the West, the 1960s saw a spiritual revolution

among
gions.

the young people,

who

rejected their parents' traditions


for answers,

and

reli-

Many turned to Buddhism


form of

and some parents took

this

to be just another

rebellion."

SANDY JOHNSON

9 5

"One's birthplace can often be


jailers

like a prison,

and one's parents the


which we

of that prison.

Our

parents can
for,

show us

great kindness,

must remember and be

greateful

but from another point of view, par-

ents sometimes create obstacles and mislead and misguide us.

From

that

point of view they can be said to be like

jailers.

"When

you read the

life

story of

Sakyamuni Buddha, you

find that

when he wanted

to leave the palace

and begin

his spiritual practice, his fa-

ther did everything he possibly could to stop his son from doing this. So,

even our teacher had to run away from his birthplace.

"When
of view,

parents do this sort of thing,


are

it is

out of love and affection.

They think what they


it is

doing

is

for the best.

But from

a spiritual point

like telling one's children to stay

with them in samsara.

"In the
is

Lamrim

texts

the Stages
to the child.

of the Path to Enlightenment


is

it

stated that faith precedes the attainment of realizations. Faith

to re-

alizations as the

mother

is

If

you practice the dharma from


life,

the bottom of your heart, then the basic necessities of


to sustain you, will

what you need

somehow come your way."


easy,

"That

is

not so
is

here in what must be the capital of samsara. Did

you know there

even a perfume called 'Samsara'?"

Geshe-la laughed. "You should abandon friends


delusions. Instead, cultivate friends
positive actions.
'All

who

stimulate your

whose company
friends.

inspires

you to create

These

are your

dharma

the activities that you engage in are endless. You will never com-

plete them.
are
is

So you should

try to relax a bit, try to

be

less

busy so that you

more

relaxed to do something for your future


for

lives.

Do something that

meaningful

your spiritual betterment."

19 6

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

THE TEACHER

Guru devotion s a concept have a hard time understanding. When was in France and met with Sogyal Rinpoche at his retreat ceni

ter, I

asked

him

to explain

it

to

me.

remember it was the scene

itself

that

raised the question.

Lerab

ling

is

Tibetan

for "sanctuary, place of enlight-

ened action." Sogyal Rinpoche, teacher, author of The

Ti-

betan Book of Living and Dying, and spiritual director of


Rigpa, an international network of Buddhist centers, gave
this

name

to the retreat center he

founded

in

southwest

France. Situated in the

Languedoc plateau, between the Cevennes and

the Mediterranean, Lerab Ling sprawls across 359 acres of

meadow and
retreat

woodland.
I

arrived at this spiritual paradise in the

middle of a summer
in tents

with more than 400 students,

many

of

whom stayed

and

referred

to the

summer

sessions as spiritual boot


is

camp. Rinpoche's

secretary, a

young woman from California who


would have
to
fit

longtime student, explained they

me

in

between teachings. She had reserved one of the

dozen or so recently

built

two-bedroom

"chalets,"

which

would share
chair,

with a retreatant. Built of cedar and simply furnished


table

bed,
who

and

the

chalets line the path to the


I

swimming

pool, a natural

moun-

tain spring.

shared mine with a

tall,

shy

German

fellow

smiled and

bowed imperceptively when we passed each other

in the hall.

Families with small children occupied the chalets on both sides.

Dharma kids grew wild


through the

there; they

were everywhere

chasing one another


salt

trees, splashing in

the pool, in the cafeteria sneaking


little

into

water pitchers
I

and seemed
hill

to be of

distraction to the meditators.


first

was invited to attend some of the teachings. The


I

evening, at

twilight,

walked up the

to the

enormous shrine tent where Sogyal


is

Rinpoche was giving

a teaching.

He

young elder

in his forties.

rec-

ognized the round, bespeckled face from the movie The Little Buddha, in

which he played one of the lamas searching


an important master.

for a tulku, a reincarnation of

Here, Sogyal Rinpoche sat on a stage, under a brilliant yellow canopy,

on

a large raised platform furnished with altars, six thangkas,


filled

and

a pair of

red-lacquered chests, on which rested blue vases


ers, brass butter lamps,

with fresh-cut flowof the

and framed photographs of his teachers and

Dalai Lama.

The

rinpoche's chair and table were of lacquered orange; beside


for

them stood an imposing throne used

ceremonies. Underneath lay a

beautiful Tibetan rug of yellow, blue, and gold.

He wore
fell

a gold-colored

robe over a yellow shirt; his slightly graying hair


his ears.

in soft

waves around

A small
l

microphone was fastened to

his robe; a video

camera on

9 S

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

tripod rolled tape.


for

Two more microphones were


in

placed around the


I

room
floor

simultaneous translations

French and German.

sat

on the

near the entrance. In front of

an infant so tiny that


retreat.

wondered

me was a woman with a child at her breast, if the woman had given birth during the
telling a

Laughter rippled through the group; Sogyal Rinpoche was


storv

about his days

in a Jesuit school in Delhi,


sort of

where he kept hearing


father, water,"

what he thought was some

an incantation: "Please,

but which turned out to be a simple request: "Please pass the water."
His students clearly adored him.
lighted
ries

They

listened,

amused and

desto-

and with rapt attention, to teachings sprinkled with personal

and shared confidences.

When he fumbled for a word or forgot a date,


who occupied
the
first

Rinpoche called on
for help.

his oldest students,

few rows,

The

talk

was followed by a meditation

session.

Someone had been


I

kind enough to pass


spine straight,

me a cushion, and
fly,

decided to

stay.

sat cross-legged,

and

tried to concentrate

on

my

breath. But

my mind

buzzed and
other. Like

flitted like a

lighting on one thought, then another and anI

many

Westerners,

could not help but be bothered by this


followers. Yet his teachings are

open display of guru devotion among the


precious;

no other word

will do.

His book has reached countless people

whose

lives

have been profoundly affected by the wisdom and compassion

in his writing.

He

has probably done more to bring the dharma to the


teacher.

modern world than any other

did not get


staff

my

appointment with Rinpoche


I

until the fourth

day.

But the

was attentive, and

used the time


I

well, writing in

my noterotund

book on the wooden deck of the

chalet.

watched, amused,

as the

rinpoche walked past in his bathing trunks and sandals on his way to the

SANDY JOHNSON

19

swimming pool

for his daily late-afternoon

swim.

He was

always accom-

panied by part of his entourage, one of


carrying his towel.

whom hurried

along behind him,

The

first

morning I was jolted awake by a loud crash that shook

the foundations of the chalet.

My mind raced; my heart pounded. Ym


No,

in

Los Angeles, and

it's

an earthquake. Another crash, the chalet shuddered,

and

forced myself to open

my eyes.

Ym

not;

Ym

in

an earthquake

in
I

the south of France.

What

does one do?

Run

outside? Crash, shudder.

reached for

my shoes.
I

Suddenly

realized these crashes


It

had

a definite rhythym;

it

couldn't

be an earthquake.

was the student


It

in the next

room doing some Wag-

nerian calisthenics!

continued

for

perhaps another twenty minutes.

Crash, shudder. Really, couldn't he do this outdoors?

At breakfast

stopped him as he passed the table where


tray.

was

sitting.

He was
please

carrying a

With

elaborate politeness,

asked

if

he would

do

his exercises outdoors.


glasses,

He

smiled and, peering shyly from beI

hind thick

he

said, "Yes.

suppose

can do

my prostrations

in the

shrine tent."
I

looked over at the others at the table,

who were

smiling patiently,
this

and dropped
1

my head

in

my hands.

"I

have no business doing

book,"

mumbled

miserably.

On
tary,

the afternoon
Rinpoche and

of the fourth day, Zanna, Rinpoche's secre-

appeared at

my door to escort me to the garden of Rinpoche's private


I

residence.

sat across

from each other


secretary and

at a table in the

shade of
Gaffney,
bridge.

a large ash, flanked

by his

his assistant, Patrick

whom

he'd

known

since his days as a visiting scholar at

Cam-

A copy

of

my book

rested

on the

table next to a copy of his own.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

After a brief exchange of pleasantries,

told

him

that the whole issue of

gum

devotion puzzled me, and asked

if

this very

Tibetan tradition were

reallv possible in

Western

culture.

"Yes,

it

is.

Correctly understood, devotion

is

actually a
is

way

of

finishing with your past,

and

of healing

it.

Our task

in life

really to learn

to let go, to change


tion
is

and grow, and not to remain stuck

in the past.

Devo-

about us giving ourselves the permission not just to study, but to


People

follow.

who have

really

followed a master have something in


things.

them
and

that

makes them go through

Sometimes

am

surprised

moved by
is,

the devotion Western people can have, healthy devotion, that


faith.

not blind

You may have the karma

to

meet

a master,

but you have

to develop the qualities to follow him."

"What

is it

that

makes devotion

possible, then?"

"Devotion
really

is

possible

when you

really

engage

in a training,

when you
from
a

work with

a living master.

Sometimes people follow

a master

distance and without actually participating in the training. They'll

say,
it

'The Dalai
will

Lama

is

my

teacher.'

Of

course he can be your teacher, but

be

difficult for

you to follow him.

He

is

the master of

all

the masters.

Some

people also claim they've studied with this master or that,

when

all

they did was go to a few talks or a few seminars. Whatever they claim,
they could not have fully studied, because their basic being
is

not trained.

Then

they often have a lot of difficulties on the path."


to

"What happens
comes
to the

what you describe


it

as pure

guru devotion when

it

West? Doesn't

become

distorted, corrupted?"
is

"It

can be corrupted in the East, too. Not everything


it

automatically

corrupted once
there
is

gets to the West!

The
it's

only thing about the

West

is

that

not the right environment;

not part of the culture, so

it

lacks

stability.

SANDY JOHNSON

"When you show devotion, you show everything of yourself,


ing
ject
all

includpro-

of your history

and
all

all

of your projections.

Sometimes students

onto the teacher


like

kinds of things. For example, people relate to the


it

master
with a

the father or mother they did not have, and

gets

mixed up

lot of

emotions, which can only lead to frustration. They assume


all

that the teachers are there to solve

their problems,

and so students hold


to

them

responsible for their whole

lives.

They expect the teacher


or her.

be

grateful because they have followed

him

They

get frustrated

when

they can't talk to the teacher whenever they want. But the relationship

with a teacher
lives in,

is

not an ordinary one;

it is

spiritual

and

is

based on, and

the teachings.
this

"Even when you address


still

openly and tease people about

it, I

am
is

amazed

at

how many

projections and expectations there are. This


relationship."

what

distorts

and contaminates the master-disciple


star.

'And the guru ends up becoming a rock


"Frankly speaking,
I

..."

don't think this


to, if

is

so

much

the case with Tiall

betan Buddhism.
masters

If

they had wanted

they had gone


stars.

out, there are

who

could have become


. .
.

like

rock

They have the wisdom


that. In

and the charisma

but the teaching

itself

seems to discourage

order to have the clear discernment to follow the teacher,

we need
is

good

understanding of the teachings


ings.

because the
is

real

teacher

in the teach-

What

does the teacher teach but the teachings?

It is

not following

the teacher's personality, but the message that he


'Also, in the

gives.

West, there
Is

often a lot of

fear:

When

you follow a

master,

is

he trustworthy?

he going to lead us down the wrong path? But


even
exist.

when we meet
comes very
need to be
"You

a master, such questions don't

Sometimes

it

be-

clear

how much

these fears

we have

are our

own

fears

and

purified.
see,

on the

spiritual path, all kinds of difficulties

can come.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Why?
ter

Because, inevitably, the teacher and the teachings mirror us.


all

A mas-

can bring up

our weaknesses.

If it's

a special master,

he or she can

push many buttons. That's normal. Even a master who's very calm and
gentle and
fits

the

bill will

push

all

the buttons nevertheless. Sometimes

peaceful masters are

more wrathful than the wrathful masters. They show

us things about ourselves that


like

we may not

quite like to acknowledge.

It is

looking into a mirror and seeing a terrible, ugly face.

We deny

it,

get

angry,

and

hit the mirror;

it

breaks into a hundred pieces, with a hundred

ugly faces.

"When we
we

get really angry with ourselves,


is

we

refuse to accept

and

lash out against the master. This

a very

Western phenomenon.
it.

Again, in this case


"It says in

we

really

need to know the dharma and understand


the

the great

Ornament of

Mahayana

Sutras taught by

Maitreya Buddha: 'Rely on the message of the teacher, not on his personality.

Rely on the meaning, not just on the words. Rely on the

real

mean-

ing,

not on the provisional one. Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your

ordinary,

judgmental mind.'
exactly
it

"

"What

is

the nature of the master-student relationship?"


for the

"Very simply,

depends on the master and on the student. As

qualities of a student, the great

Dzogchen

saint

Longchenpa

said that a

good student has

trust

and

is

highly discerning, diligent, conscientious,


is

and mindful; follows the teacher's instructions;


sionate,

disciplined,

compasis

and deeply concerned about

others' well-being;

and

open-

minded, patient, generous,

visionary, stable,
is

and deeply devoted.


gem, to be able to
a particular
rec-

"The student
ognize

is

someone who
is

able to see a

when

a master

special. Usually

we have

concept or

idea about

how a master

should be.

If

you look

at the history of India, the

great Vajrayana masters often did not appear in a conventional way.

Tilopa, the forefather of the whole

Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism,

SANDY JOHNSON

2 O

appeared as an outcast and a beggar. Sometimes these masters had only

one

disciple.

"We need
If

to

be able to see beyond the form, straight to the essence.


it

we have

this capacity,

means

that

we have something

special.

When
fits

you go to McDonald's, you know exactly what you are getting. You cannot
expect the master to be
like a

McDonald's, purveying something that

your concept exactly.


"If a

master

is

an authentic master, he

will

manifest as such in every


qualities for a perfect
skill-

situation.

The

traditional teachings speak of

many

teacher-realization: learning, discipline, compassion, renunciation,


fulness, having the blessing of the lineage,

and so on. The remarkable


is

nineteenth-century master Patrul Rinpoche said there


stands above
hicitta
all

one quality that


filled

the

rest:

that the master has a heart that

is

with bod-

the
it is

real desire to
is

become enlightened

for the sake of all sentient

beings.

Compassion
it is

the most important thing.

"Of course
lineage

difficult to

meet authentic masters.

When there is a

easier to find
is

them, but even then, to find a master with very

special qualities

rare.
I

You can find masters, but among the masters too

there are masters.


life

can speak from

my experience. You
been so fortunate:

could say that

my
and

has been

filled

with masters.

I've

I've

met master af-

ter master,

all

owing to the kindness of Jamvang Khyentse,

mv

first

principal master.

Even though he died when


I

was quite young, somehow

he took care of me, and


reveal to

kept on meeting masters


in

who have continued

to

me what he had sown


it is

me.

"Without the masters


teachings.
It is

not possible for people to understand the

only through their direct instructions that


alive.

we can come

to

understand the meanings; they bring the teachings


ters also

Authentic mas-

embodv

the blessing of the lineage. So devotion to the masters


If

begins with gratitude.

you have authentic devotion, you see with a new

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

clarity, certainty,

and

faith;

you

feel

such an extraordinary joy and sense of


I

celebration.
if I

remember times when


this earth.
is

received certain teachings,

felt as

was no longer on

"What you
thev have.
giving.

also realize

the tremendous compassion, love, and care


are:

And how selfless


give

they

they just go on and on, giving, giving,


the
gift of

They
you?

you the greatest

gift,

wisdom.

What does that

do

for

It

frees

you from

yourself,

from your own ignorance. You begin


you did not know who you were,
all

to discover vour real nature. Till then,

but

now

as

you come to discover

yourself,

your frustrations begin to

dissolve. That's

why

there have been so

many

great dohas

hymns, songs
in the

of experience,

and prayers of devotion

composed spontaneously
wisdom
is

moment
vourself.

of realization.

That great

gift of

actually the gift of

"The more you

realize the truth of the teachings, the

more

you'll

find that the very beings of the masters resonate with the truth.

When-

ever
to

think of

Guru Padmasambhava

or the masters

have been close

Jamyang Khyentse, Dudjom Rinpoche, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, Karmapa the Kalu Rinpoche any them the
or or

of

masters,

see

all

as

same. Because thev

all

are

showing the same truth; the same

as all the

buddhas, the same as Guru Padmasambhava.


"This means that the master
is

no longer
is

a personality;
really

he

is

the

em-

bodiment and the human


is

face of truth. This


for

what an incarnation

compassionate vehicle

touching the minds and hearts of beings.


that way, things

When you have been touched by a master in


you, quicken, and progress. You

happen

for

may even

find that you don't

need any-

thing

else;

if

your devotion

is

pure and focused, you're okay.

'And what's
in

interesting,

you may find that the more devotion there


life

is

your

life,
is

the richer and more fulfilling your

becomes. Because de-

votion

the

means

to purify

all

the negative emotions and to work

SANDY JOHNSON

2 O 5

through particular psychological patterns. Really to work with devotion


like this
is

means

of development.
this devotion,

"If

you have
It is

you can become enlightened more

quickly.

said that there are three

means through which we can

realize

the nature of our mind: meditation, the accumulation of merit, and devotion. For

me, devotion
I

is

the path, and

it is

only because
I

have

this de-

votion that
there
is

can communicate the teachings


is

because

know that when

devotion, there
it is

also the blessing.

If

the teacher does not have


will last.

devotion,

questionable whether the lineage

"So
tionship.

it's

the greatest

human

relationship, the teacher-student rela-

It is

something that makes you transcend from the ordinary to


It's

the spiritual.
in a sense,

such an amazing dynamic.


It is

It

purifies;

it

empowers; and,

it is

the only way of learning.

an extraordinary path, rapid

and

direct.

"When we
principle.

talk

about the teacher,

it is

something universal;
is

it's

The
us,

outer teacher, the master

we meet,

the key, the master

who shows
know how
teacher'

but actually
its

life itself is

also a great teacher.


is

But we don't

to listen to

teachings. This

called the 'universality of the

Once the master teaches

us and

we know the

teaching, then we'll


life is alis

have learned

how

to listen to

life

and how
is

to read the messages

ways giving. Because ultimately what


teacher,
I

our teacher?

The

truth

our

and the truth

is

what we have to become."


I

understood what Sogyal Rinpoche meant, and

was moved by

his

sincerity,

but

still I

had doubts.

We are

such a young

society,

too hungry

for idols; inevitably

we

turn our masters into rock

stars.

2 O

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

HEALING

On
physical

Wednesday morning
I

in late

May,
for

just before

Memorial

Day weekend,

went to

a doctor,

new to me,

my yearly checkup. The


five-year

exam proved

fine; in

another year

would reach the

mark, the doctor cheerfully reminded me. She then ran the usual blood
tests,

among them
tumor
if

the standard tumor marker, used to meais

sure a

there

one.

The

office

would

fax

me the reI

sults in
I

two days, she

said.

was out

much

of the day that Friday;

when

came

home
tor.

there was a message

She had called

at 4:45

my voice mail from the docto say she wanted to talk to me about one of the
on
I

tests,

the tumor marker, which was elevated.

could reach her in her office

until five.
I

froze.

My body went numb. Time hung suspended


before,

in that strange
is

other place

remembered from four years

where one

instantly re-

moved from
decided.
I

all

that

is life

to the holding place; not yet death, not quite

looked at

my watch: 4:55, just time to catch her.


I I

But the reception-

ist

told

me the doctor had already gone.


if

explained the reason for


to.

my call
to

and asked
tionist

there was anyone else


all

could talk

The

indifferent recep-

was afraid not. Outrage

but obliterated
I

fear. "Is

there

no way

reach the doctor for even a brief conversation?"

asked.

She would leave a

message on her exchange, but


of

as far as she knew, the doctor

would be out

town

until Tuesday.
its

Cancer creates
be nose cancer
of a holiday

own

particular paranoia

catch
in

a cold
test

and

it

must

so a mysterious

phone

call

about a blood

on

a Friday

weekend promised long days ahead


I

which to contemplate

impermanence.

reminded myself
a

of

Khamtrul Rinpoche's divination:


will

"The
fine."

illness

you were stricken with

few years ago


I

not return. You are

Did that mean never? He

said

was

fine then,
his

but what about now

Lobsang Lhalungpa had


years earlier. His words

told

me

about

bout with cancer a few


at life as

came

to mind:

"If

you look

what

it is,

then

you have no
garden

illusions. Life

is

not always a beautiful garden. Even in the

itself,

there are harmful things, poisonous plants, and thorny

bushes. So looking at things as they are

means

that

life itself is

unreliable.

But a mind that


body."
I

is

calm and

free of fear has

an immediate impact on the

found

was taking notice of each thought, each word, each deed


each would be
I

in

new way,

for

my legacy, in each would lay the foundation


in

for the future.

discovered

was thinking

Buddhist terms about karma

and

rebirth.

Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche,


tells

in his

book Gates

to

Buddhist Practice,

the story the

Buddha used

to illustrate the rarity of

human

birth:

"Compare the

3,000-fold universe to a

huge ocean with

wooden yoke

208

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

floating
turtle.

somewhere on top

of

it.

At the bottom of the ocean


it

lives a blind
air,

Once

every hundred years

comes

to the surface for a gulp of

then goes back


sooner or
over
its

down

to the bottom.

The

laws of chance are such that,

later,

the

moment the turtle surfaces the wind will blow the yoke
turtle will

head and the

poke through. That

this will

happen

is

just

barely conceivable. According to the

Buddha, the chances of someone


less likely."

finding a precious
I

human birth
before?

are

even

took notice of

my moments of impatience, of selfishness. Why had


I

never noticed

them

resisted the urge to give in to the


yes, prayed.

drama;

just

watched and thought and,


I

do not

fear death, only the


illness.
life.

way

it

may come:
I

helplessly

and with
fully

the indignities of a long

And

before

have had a chance to

understand the nature of

When Tuesday finally came and the doctor called me, she suggested
I

have the
I

test redone, as labs

can sometimes vary

in their testing proce-

dures.
jor

had good reason

to be angry.

She might have mentioned that ma-

caveat in her message and spared

me a weekend of wondering.
were perfectly normal.

But by

the end of the


I

week I had new


a

results that

also

had

new mind.
illness

turned once again to Lhalungpa for the Buddhist view of

and

health.

"Healing
make
you

is

an essential

part of Buddhist meditation.

We

don't always talk of healing, but


it

when you work with

the mind,
is

when you

peaceful and sensitive and compassionate, the body

impacted and

feel at peace.

At the same time, you impact

others;

it

influences

how
is

you look at other people. You don't have to pretend when your inner world
secure

and you understand what you

are doing.

When you look at other peoreveals

ple with concern,

you need no pretense. Your face

what you

are

SANDY JOHNSON

0$

inside.

There

is

no

division.

But when your inner world

is

not clean, not

pure, not sensitive enough, then you pretend to be kind, sure, but you pre-

sent a different kind of face, a different kind of smile. Very soon sensitive

people discover that that smile

is

not sincere.

Dharma

is

not pretense.

Dharma

is

really

being what

it is.

Pure inside and outside, everywhere.


is

"From
settled,

Buddhist perspective, the deeper cause of disease

in the

unresolved

mind

or unresolved karma.

There

is

something there
way, this
is

that then works with the conscious mind.

Somewhere along the

mind did not

focus inwardly on these problems. Therefore, the problem

gradually built
tact

through the environment, through conwith an unhealthy environment which together


up with images
all

result in disease.

"Therefore there
cine, so

is

need

for

something

specific in

terms of medi-

Buddhism
is

doesn't say that only meditation will work.

A balanced

approach

needed.

The power

of the

mind

is

such that when you take

medicine with the understanding and


property that
is

trust that this

medicine has some

going to work, this gives confidence and peace of mind.


of

The combination
"This
is

mind and medicine speeds

recovery.

true even in serious cases, like

because of

my

lifelong

devotion,

my own cancer. Fortunately, when my doctor told me, 'Mr.


I

Lhalungpa, you have cancer, a very serious one,'


pared myself for decades to understand
ease can overcome us.
situation. For health
is
I

said

all right.

had

pre-

how natural
all

things work,

how dis-

had prepared myself

along for this kind of

unpredictable. Even thirty years ago


I

when

en-

joyed extraordinary health,

didn't take

it

for granted.
I

"But some people, when they heard

had

cancer, asked,

'What did
for
it.

you do?'
This
is

as

if I

had committed some crime and was being punished


is

a misconception, that there


is

somebody out

there with the rules:

somebody

good boy and he


friends.

gets wonderful things

more money,
it's

more wealth, more

When

somebody

gets cancer,

punish-

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

ment. This

is

so foreign to our tradition.

It is

a total

misunderstanding of

how nature works.


"I didn't feel
let's

any shock when the doctor told me,


I

just said, 'Okay,

go ahead with the surgery and the treatments.'


I

had

a long course of
like a skeleI

radiation.

was losing weight every day

became almost

but country
ton

still,

my mind

was peaceful,

slept well.
I

Even when

lost

my

it

was a great
I

loss, a tragic

shock. But

had learned how to un-

derstand things.

learned to take things as they

come and
is

ask,

'Is

there

something that

can do or not?'

If

you see that there

something that

you can do, do


I

it.

"When had radiation, there was an immediate impact of how powerful


I

and destabilizing
so nauseous
pills.
I

it

was.

The

first

day,

was

fine,

but the second

day,

felt

and weak that

my wife called the doctor and he sent me


day
only.

some

took four or

five pills that

Then

said to myself,

can't take these pills every day.


pital for radiation

So every morning, before going to the hosdid

treatment,

my meditation
I

practice.

Then I would

go to

my
So
I

doctor's office for chemotherapy.


this
is

thought, Something else

needs to be done because


force.

so powerful.

It
I

needs a stronger counteroffice

did

my meditation

at
I

home, then

went to the doctor's


I

and

sat outside in the corridor.

told the nurse

would

sit

there quietly for

five or

ten minutes before the treatment.

"I

meditated until the time they called


is

me

in to the radiation

room.

This meditation
table, they

unlike anything.

It's

very calming and peaceful.

On the
I

took measurements and drew a chart on

my

stomach while

lay there

doing

my

meditation to counteract the

ill

effects of radiation.
I

paid no attention to what the doctor and nurses were doing.


healing meditation.

was doing

When they said

could get up,

got dressed and went


I

and

sat in the corridor again for

another period of meditation.


feeling that I'd

did that

every day,

and soon that destabilized

had the second day

SANDY JOHNSON

was gone.
the end,
I

had protected myself from the


a little

ill

effects of the radiation.


It is

At

was

weak but

never was mentally worried.


Is it

a waste
Is it

of time, worrying.

What's going to happen?

going to work?
If it

not
If

going to work?
it

never questioned any of these things.

works, okay.

doesn't work, okay.


"I've

long accepted the tradition that says that

when your body is un-

well

you need to do something physically

physical therapy, medicine,


is, I

plus spiritual

and mental work. You need

to

combine them. And that


to look
at.

think, a very healthy thing for

modern people

People have a

tendency to look
of treatment.
If

for

magic sometimes and exclude conventional methods


lost.

the unconventional methods don't work, they are


spiritual

But
ef-

when you combine medicine with


fective

and mental work,

it is

more

than either method by

itself.

"My practice
ing

never stops, which doesn't

mean
I

sit

in the corner do-

my

meditation.

My

practice

means whatever
dharma

am

doing, daytime,

nighttime, even in

my

sleep. In this way,

is

an incessant flow of
stability in

generosity, understanding,

and compassion that ensures


still

the in-

ner world.

When the mind is


is

and

clear,

when you

see things without

confusion, there

always

joy."

was no stranger
and
I

to the

power of

prayer.

When
a

was

in the

hospital

knew

Pete Catches was praying and doing ceremonies for night before

me,

felt safe.

The

my

operation,

had

dream

in

which

faceless voice said the words,

"You

will get well,


I

you must get

well.

You have

to build a sweat lodge for

George Bush."

woke laughing. The

nurse, hear-

ing

me, poked her head


"No,"
I

tion.

my medicasaid, still chuckling, "but would you hand me the phone?" On


in

and asked

if

they'd already started

the off chance that Pete would be at his son's house, where there was a tele-

phone,

called.

shouldn't have been surprised

when

it

was Pete who an-

12

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

swered.

told

him the dream and, knowing

his dislike for the

Republican
to burst

administration and for George Bush in particular, waited for

him

into laughter. But he was silent. "Isn't that funny, Grandfather?" Finally

he answered, "But that

is

exactly

what you must

do, Granddaughter.

You

must build sweat lodges

for all the

George Bushes of the world, and you


then told

must do that with your books."


ceremony during

He

me he would be doing a pipe

my operation.

SANDY JOHNSON

DHARMA DYNASTY
From Tibet to the West

had been reading about


when
was

the Sakyas in "Cho-Yang," a series of

books on Tibetan history and culture, which Tsering Choedon introduced

me

to

in India.

According to

history, the

Sakya family de-

scended from gods of the Realm of Clear Light,

who

entered the

human

realm more than one thousand years ago and has remained unbroken
since then. Rulers of

much

of Central Asia for

many

years,

the Sakyas descended from the Sakya Pandita, thirteenth-

century religious leader of Tibet and spiritual advisor to


Kublai Khan. Because the lineage
is

inherited, the

men

are

permitted to marry.
In June
I

flew to Seattle and Vancouver to see three


great teachers.

members

of the

Sakya family,

all

His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya


Sakya monastery
in Seattle

is

the founder of the


Principality.

and author of The Sakya

Born

in

His Holiness

Dagchen Rinpoche

1928 into the Phun-tshog branch of the


successor to the throne of Sakya.

Khon lineage, he

is

the imminent

He

is

one of seven children

two boys
was
care-

and

five girls.

Sakyas receive a special education, and since Dagchen Rinpoche was


to

be future head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism,


planned by his
father,

his

fully

H. H. Trichen Ngawang Thutop Wangchuk,

the last throneholder in Tibet.

Dagchen Rinpoche was not

to enter a

monastery until

his tenth year.

Rinpoche and
in 1961.

his family

were the

first

to settle in the United States,

They came

at the invitation of the University of

Washington,

sponsored by a Rockefeller Foundation grant. His Holiness offered teachings in their

home and

in rented facilities until a building

was found on

the outskirts of Seattle. In 1974 Sakya Tegchen Choling, a

dharma center
Tibetan

and monastery, was founded. The

large white building flying the


library,

and American
dence
I

flags serves as

temple,

and

offices, as well as resi-

for

some

of the
if

members.

wondered

Jigdal

Dagchen Rinpoche might have some advice

for

developing the calmness of

mind which enabled Lobsang Lhalungpa

to

face his illness with such utter serenity.

SANDY JOHNSON

"When
is

am asked how

to approach the

dharma,

my

teaching

to practice with the body, speech,


as servants to the

and mind; to think of the body


as the master.

and speech
die,

mind, the mind

When
it

you

the

mind

leaves the body, so think of the

body

as a

temporary
just re-

dwelling, a hotel.

And

speech

is

like

an echo

off a

mountain;

sounds.

"Mind
buddha

is

foremost.

Its

actions decide whether one will

become

or descend to the hell realms.


it is

Mind determines

all

actions,

good

or bad. Therefore

king.

The

three negative mental factors of the


of the

mind

are attachment, desire,

and grasping. Practice

dharma

is

the anti-

dote.

"When
what
teachings,

listening to a teaching of the Buddha's,


If

we should avoid

are called the 'three faults of a receptacle.'

we

don't listen to the


If

we

are like

an overturned bowl; nothing can be retained.

we
it;

don't put the teachings into practice,

we

are like a

bowl with
is

a hole in

everything leaks out.

If

we

are lazy-minded

and

sleepy, this
it

similar to us-

ing an unclean bowl; the holder corrupts what

holds.

We

should also

avoid the

six

defilements: pride, nonbelief, resentment at feeling obliged

to attend the teachings, feeling they are useless, being distracted

by the

environment of the teaching, and seeing

faults in that

environment.

"On

the other hand,

we should

practice the four desirable attitudes:

viewing the teacher as a physician, seeing oneself as a patient, understanding the dharma to be medicine, and resolving to practice the dharma
as

our cure.
"In Tibet, a student usually starts with the foundation practices.

These include
mandala

prostrations, purification ritual with

mantra

recitation,

offerings,

and guru yoga.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"In meditation here at the monastery,


straight back. This
correctly, to
is

tell

practitioners to

sit

with a

the right position for the psychic veins to channel


in the
left.

put the mind

proper state for meditation.

The

legs

should be crossed, right over

The hands should be


hand within the

in the lap in the

'equipoise' position, with the right

left, left

on the bot-

tom, the thumbs interlocked.

"The mental
stages.

attitude for meditation can be viewed in progressive

Understanding the dharma engages one on the Path of Accumula-

tion,

where beginners learn the difference between virtue and non-virtue


start to try to

and

comprehend the nature

of mind. Experiencing the

dharma engages one on the Path


reflection of the

of Application,

which

is

like

seeing the

moon in water. The realization of dharma engages one on

the Path of Insight, like seeing the

moon

in the sky just after the


is

new

moon. Over time,

it

becomes

a full

moon, which

buddhahood.
without thinking of
or distracin a

"The mind should be kept


past, present, or future,
tion.

in its natural state

and without excitement, depression,


a

The mind should maintain


"The base

union of

clarity

and emptiness

calm, unperturbable condition.


or ground of the

mind

is

our buddha-nature. All beings


free of inci-

have buddha-nature, but we can't be enlightened until we are

dental stains. These stains can't be removed like spots from a teacup.

To

remove them, one must view the Root Lama


dha himself. Then, having
faith,

as inseparable from the Bud-

devotion, and sincerity

when

meditating,

one can reach complete buddhahood and become


obscurations and stains."
It still

free of all incidental

amazes

me that Tibetans see people as originally pure, as havwe


always dedicate the merit.

ing the nature of enlightened beings.


'At the

end

of every practice,

We

do

SANDY JOHNSON

this to express

our joy and gratitude

at

being fortunate enough to be able


is

to study the dharma. Also, the dedication


sake,

not done just

for one's

own

but

for

all

sentient beings as well, for their happiness, the fulfillment

of their wishes, their

freedom from

suffering,

and attainment

of

buddha-

hood."

At that moment, the door burst open and


than a toddler, with dark, close-cropped hair

a small

boy

barely

more

rushed

into the

room and

clambered onto Dagchen Rinpoche's


peared, looking apologetic. But
lighted.

lap.

A moment later, his mother ap-

Dagchen Rinpoche was laughing, de-

"Meet our
of

littlest

lama," he

said. "Tulku-la.

He

is

the reincarnation

my wife's
The

uncle Deshung Rinpoche,


this lady
is

who founded
us.

this

monastery with
is

me. Tulku-la,

writing a

book about

Her name

Sandy."
bright,
to-

boy, dressed in sweatpants,

Mickey Mouse

shirt,

and

multicolored sneakers, hopped

down from Rinpoche's


large dark eyes

lap

and came

ward me, hand outstretched. His

were serious.
I

Thinking what nice manners these Tibetan children are taught,


tended mine. But
it

ex-

wasn't

my hand the boy was reaching for,

realized. It

was

my head.
"Tulku-la wants to bless you," Rinpoche explained.
Dutifully,
I

bowed my head low enough

to
I

make

the crown accessible


as
I

to his reach.

smiled

a bit patronizingly,

admit

felt

the small

hand gently touch


tonishment
I

my head.

But then

looked into his face, and to

my as-

saw not
yes,

a child's expression,

but that of someone wise and

mature
I

and

compassionate.
I

looked over at the mother, whose name,


matter-of-factly.

learned, was Caroline


a

Lama. She nodded

An American who married

Tibetan

student of Dagchen Rinpoche's, Caroline was told by her teachers that


the child she was pregnant with was "special."

The prophecy was con-

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

firmed

in

her dreams. Only

months before, when Tulku-la had turned

two,
pro-

senior lamas in Nepal

(Deshung Rinpoche's monastery-in-exile)

nounced the boy the


Shortly
after, his

reincarnation.
father was killed in an auto accident.

"Not unusual,"

Caroline
oline

said.

"Many

tulkus lose both parents

when

they are young." Car-

would soon

lose her child too, in a sense. In a


in

few months, she would


his studies.

have to take Tulku-la to the monastery

Nepal to begin

She

would

visit

him

only twice a year during the ten years

when he would learn

to take his place


It

among

the great Tibetan masters.

was time now

for Tulku-la to

go

home to bed. With a


words

promise they

could stop at McDonald's for a shake, he flew out of the room and

came

back carrying his miniature

ball jacket, the

"Lil

Monster" written

on the back, and handed

it

to me.

"He wants you


"I

to help
I

him on with

it,"

Rinpoche
it.

said, smiling.

am honored,"
I

said, strangely

meaning

As
the

left,

was handed
at the

this

poem Rinpoche

wrote in the Year of

Water Pig (1983)

conclusion of a lecture he gave in Olympia,

Washington:

The

pure, cool water of Tibet's previous history

Has

the auspicious marks of an orderly flow of elegant sayings.


the precious vase of my mind,

From within

Can

not your thirst be quenched by study and reflection?

Therefore,

delight in drawing you a picture,

To make universally known without obstruction in the three


worlds,

The beautiful form of the circumstances and

events.

SANDY JOHNSON

Consider a place enclosed, an extensive lotus garden

With the thousand movements of dancing

bees,

Who
I

search

and

delight in the taste of the lotus-knowledge;


I

also see the hive where

and

others

live.

Accordingly, having defeated the

army of dark ignorance

With

the honey of great intelligence which studies


stories

The great and profound


1

of former times,

imagine

this lecture

should have some benefit.

HIS

EMINENCE JIGDAL DAGCHEN SAKYA

From my earliest
depending

memories

have been plagued


vivid that in

or blessed,

by

strong, vivid dreams.

So

my early childhood

my

parents took

me

to doctors,

one of

whom

suggested the dreams were

an indication of petit mal, a mild form of epilepsy. The idea must have so
horrified
I,

with

my mother that she refused to hear any more of my dreams, and my child's innate sense of survival, stopped talking about them.
still,

They continue
heed

and

have learned as best

can to understand and to

their teachings.

One morning I woke


terrible

in tears
I

from what

perceived to have been a

dream. In the dream

had met an

all-seeing, all-knowing spirit


I

and asked him about

my karma. He answered that


life. I

would never be happy,


asked,
"is

not in this or any other

was stunned. "But,"


said.

there noth-

karma." "But wait


The dream
been dealt
left

ing

can do to change that?" "No," he


"
I

"You can't change your

called after

him

in vain.

He had

evaporated.
I

me

enshrouded

in a cloak of

doom.

felt as if

had

a terrible sentence.

But then,

as the

day wore on, the feeling of

2 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

gloom began

to

lift

and was replaced by


I

a strange feeling of relief:


trying.

If

I'm

never going to be happy anyway, then


to look for happiness;
I

can stop

No need anymore
would

am
I

free to get

on with

my life.
I

That afternoon,

as

boarded a plane to Vancouver, where


I

meet with Jetsun Kusho,


with

wondered

if

the dream had something to do


feel

my readiness to give up samsara.


a teacher.

was beginning to

the desire to

meet

Her full name


The
sister of

is

Her Eminence Sakya Jetsun Chimey Luding.

His Holiness Sakya Trizin, Jetsun Kusho was born in Sakya in

1938 into the noble family of the


her brother,
the three

Khon lineage. She was trained

alongside

who became head of the Sakya lineage. Jetsun Kusho is one of


in the history of

women

Tibet to have transmitted the Lamdre

(Path and

Its Fruit)

teachings, the system of contemplative

and meditaher teach-

tive practice special to the

Sakya lineage. She

is

also

known

for

ing

on Vajrayogini,
I

female meditational

deity.

found her

in her

modest home

in the
is

suburbs of Vancouver, where

she lives with her husband. Jetsun


ing center Sakya Tsechen

Kusho
Ling.

the resident lama at the teach-

Thubten

"They
ens,

say that many,

many eons

ago,

we came from
say.

the heav-

from another planet. The god realms, they


"In the Sakya tradition, the

women

don't marry.
side.
I

We

all

become
I

nuns.

The

line continues

through the men's

was eight when

took
If I

my

first-level ordination.
to,
I

The

teacher

came

to our house for studies.

had wanted

could have studied in the monastery with the monks.


retreats in

Not ordinary nuns, but Sakya lineage-holder nuns. You can do


the house or in mountain caves.

"The palace

grew up

in

was quite

big,

with twenty or twenty-five

SANDY JOHNSON

2 2

servants inside. There were thirteen farms, each with a

manager that came

once a year with

offerings.

The two Sakya

lineage-holder families aren't

royal in the usual sense,

but

in a religious sense.

A noble family, not royal.

Generally the
families,
"I

girls

who marry into

the Sakya lineage are from other noble

government

service people.
I

am

married now, but in Tibet,

wore nun's robes and shaved


Dalai

my

head.
fled,

stayed there until 1959.


followed.

When we heard that the


I

Lama had

we

My

brother and aunt and


all.

left

with a small party.

Maybe

twelve people in

We went first to Sikkim because another aunt


left,

lived there.

At the time we

there were

no Chinese people

in

our

re-

gion, but

many spies

Tibetan people who were spying on us


being a nun in India. In that country,
dies.

for the

Chi-

nese.
I

We were quite young, so we really didn't know what was happening.


don't understand politics.
"It

still

was

difficult

their

heads only when someone

They

didn't understand

women shave my shaved


So
I

head, and they


to let

became

suspicious, always asking questions.

decided

my hair grow. Also, in India, people understood English and Western


I

ways, so

began to study English


family
is

at a missionary school.

"My husband's
was

also

from

a Sakya lineage-holder family.

He

my

brother's student,

and the marriage had been arranged through


I

my aunt. My husband
very, very rich

and

knew each other

in school,

and we'd gone to

the movies together, just as friends.

We had a one-week wedding party A

woman would have a one-month wedding party 'Astrologers tell a woman what color to wear when she marries. My
was a
bit awful, a blue dress

dress

with a green blouse.

It's

been

good

marriage.
age.

We have four boys, and a little girl who died at three months of
told

They

me

to get pregnant again right away, so

did.

think

little

children understand past lives better than


forget.

we

do.

Then,

slowly, slowly,

they

Sometimes when babies

are just a few

weeks

old, they will start

2 2 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

w sm
Jetsun Kusho

laughing or crying in their sleep. They say this


past lives.

is

because of memories of

"Our oldest son

is

thirty

and owns

a carpet

company; he was married

few months ago, to a Japanese Buddhist. The second, who will be a lama and
the lineage-holder, lives in India.
twenty-six

The

third

and
is

forth ones live here; they're

and twenty-four. The older son

the production assistant for a

design company, and the younger works in a photo shop. I'm a weaver.
"It hasn't really

been

difficult to raise

my

children in the West. I'm

very lucky they never got into trouble.

One

of

them

tried drugs,

but

it

made him

sick.

We are very open in the


The
we
don't shout.

family and hold few secrets.


it,

We
I

don't shout at each other.

children don't like

my husband
them
that

and

don't like
they'll

it,

so

With

drinking,

tell

maybe
I

have a few hours of pleasure, but then there's the hangover.

tell

them

to think about consequences.

"People ask

me how
is

to instill

compassion

in their children,
just

but

think that compassion


to

something that you're born with. You

have

remind children by showing compassion toward others, by displaying

SANDY JOHNSON

2 2

patience. Tibetan people tend to have lots of patience, not like Westerners. It's

part of the culture. Children learn from their parents


their grandparents.

and espe-

cially

from

My older son

is

always quoting something

his

grandmother told him

as a child.
in

"The

role of

women

Buddhism, and women's

issues as they per-

tain to the spiritual path, have


ticular culture.
I

become prominent

right

now

in this par-

think

it is

very

much

a function of the

time and place in

which we

live.

When

the

Buddha taught
was quite

twenty-five hundred years ago

in India, the cultural situation

different.

We can see historically


who
followed the Bud-

that a great number, perhaps the majority, of those

dha's teachings were

men. But that was simply

a reflection of the cultural

situation at that time

and not something we need

to regard as inherent in

the teachings.

"The Buddha taught


benefit of
all

for the benefit of all sentient beings, for the

living creatures; not just

human beings, not just men. And as


Buddhism
in India

we can

see,

if

we examine

the historical record of

and

other countries,

women and

their nunneries play a very strong part in the

monastic

religion.

Within the

tradition of

Buddhism

in Tibet, the vast

majority of lamas and teachers have been men. But this does not
that only

mean

men can be the teachers. There have been, in fact, many women
Buddhism, there
is

teachers. In the Sakya School of Tibetan


tradition, particularly within
titioners.

a very strong

my family clan, of women teachers and pracif

"Certainly

among

the Sakyas the custom was that

people, regard-

less of their sex,


spiritually,

wished to undertake practice and develop themselves

they would encounter no barriers. In

my

family, the

blood

lin-

eage played a very important part. All sons and daughters are regarded as
potential teachers by virtue of having
legal

been born into

this family.

Both the

and

social situation in

Sakya was such that the

women were accorded

2 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

equal status with the


ability to practice

men

in

terms of legal powers,


personally,

in

terms of their
also in terms of

and develop themselves

and

their ability to act as teachers.

"In the

Nyingma

school, the

most ancient school

of Tibetan

Bud-

dhism, we also find a number of key historical figures

who were women.

One

of the

most famous who comes

to

mind

is

woman named Jomo

Menmo. Not

only was she regarded as a fine teacher, but also as a person

who discovered very many 'treasure teachings,' concealed teachings which


she revealed to her students.

"Machig Labdron
practiced today by
there haven't been
all

lived in the eleventh century.

Her teachings

are

four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Although


teachers in the Gelugpa tradition,
still

many women

the teachings of
are a

women have been revered over the years. Presently, there few women teachers in the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions, though
combined
histories of

not many.
"In the
all

of the schools,

women

also

have

played a very important role in the transmission of lineage. As well, the


dedication of

women

practitioners in Tibet,

women who

were known

for

the sincerity and the intensity of their practice, was a very strong force in the advancement of the religion.
"In the household,

women

are often the boss; the

husband always

obeys the wife. This business of a


children
I

don't believe

woman being a slave to the husband and happens too much. Sometimes a woman doesn't
very smart,

have any qualities or


usually
it is

isn't

and the husband

is

in charge,

but

woman who controls the house. "My husband and are equals. He works as a school janitor.
the
I

Every day

he by

travels
car.

nineteen miles each way, two hours by bus or forty-five minutes

work

My husband never worked in Tibet. In India, as a refugee, he didn't either. When we came to Canada, we both worked. For the first
SANDY JOHNSON
2 2 5

few years when the children were small,

stayed at

home. But when

my
I

older son was twelve years old, he looked after the younger ones and

worked.

"However,

women

are not considered as important politically as the


a nunnery.

men, except

for the

head of

We didn't have any women polititeachers, but Tibetan


sister,

cal leaders until


roles. In

the 1950s,
I

when

the Dalai Lama's sisters took public

Sakya, as

said, there are

women

women
good

tend to be very shy and


practitioner

afraid.

My father's
my

my aunt,
when

is

a very

and

teacher, but after

father died,

she began giving

my brother long-life empowerments once a week, she refused to allow any


servants in the

room except

the shrinekeeper. She'd give the


if I

empower-

ment

to

my brother
shy."

and me, but would get upset

looked at her face.

She was too

"Do you
are in the
"It
is

think

women

Buddhists' roles will change,

now

that they

West?"
only natural that people in a different culture, one

new to Bud-

dhism, begin to wonder about female role models and stereotypes and so
forth.

You must remember Western people do not have

a great deal of pre-

vious experience with Vajrayana teachings, so I'm suggesting to you that


in the true spirit of the teachings of the

Buddha, there

is

no fundamental

distinction made between male or female. The same processes they ob-

served in India, in Tibet, will also be true in the West: that a student will

go to

a qualified teacher

and

receive

empowerments, teachings, and

di-

rection.

And through

their

own

practice they

may come

to

be worthy,

at a

certain point, of taking the responsibility of earning

on that

particular lin-

eage.
'Also,
it is

conceivable that

women

in the

West

will

be recognized

as

tulkus, incarnate lamas. Tulkus,

who were advanced

practitioners in for-

2 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

mer lives,

require

much less

training in this one. But

it's

important that we

recognize and respect the authenticity, the validity of the process of a stu-

dent going to a teacher, receiving guidance and empowerments


ditional manner.

in

the tra-

"Buddhism

is

so

new

to this culture.

We

have to learn patience.

We

cannot expect things to establish themselves overnight. That's im-

practical.

On

the one hand,

we might

say

we want

things to get going

immediately.
there are

On

the other hand,

we cannot

rule out the possibility that

Western lineages

in the process of forming.

There

are

West-

ern lamas

who

trained in Tibet,

and

men and women now being


in the future there will

trained

in retreat centers in the

West. Perhaps

be West-

ern

men and women

of Sakya, Gelugpa,

Nyingmapa, and Kagyupa speak-

ing from the Tibetan Buddhist point of view. But in order for these
lineages to establish themselves, the lineage-holder

must go through
be

rig-

orous training.

It is

also impractical to expect that there will


all

self-arisen

lineage-holders, that,

of a sudden,

one pops up and establishes a


be a process of the old
tradi-

brand new lineage.


tion

It's far

more

likely to

handing

its

knowledge over to the new, and making that transition

from one culture to another.

"Maybe Western
to

teachers will change

it,

but Tibetan teachers want


ideas

keep things the same. Westerners have so

many

when they come


It is

to

dharma, and sometimes they tend to make up their own teachings.

difficult for us to
ers,

do

that;

we have

to have permission

from our own teach-

who check to make


think that
it is

sure that changes will be beneficial. But Western-

ers

like

going to the university:


easy.

when you

finish studying,

you get

a degree. It's

not that

Sometimes people meditate but they


benefit.

don't get the meaning, so the

mind does not


is

"Buddhism teaches that everything

in the

mind. The mind

is

very

SANDY JOHNSON

2 2

tricky. It

does

all

kinds of things.

One moment it goes up to the planets, all


the

over the place. That's


the

why we have

wisdom teaching

of

how to make
doesn't actell

mind

stable. If

you have

a stable

mind, then you can

learn.
If it
I

"Your mind can be trained to accept any situation.


cept what
is

happening, then every single minute

is

difficult.

my stu-

dents that

my mind is very dull, not very sensitive, and I'm very fortunate
minds tend
things.
It's

that way. Sensitive

to upset themselves, especially


fine
if

if

they pick

up on only the bad

they pick up on the good things.


I

"When
ing back

something bad happens,


it

immediately
I

try to

understand
that
is

the obstacle, to view

in

terms of karma.

What have done

com-

now? Some people blame

others, but

karma comes from many,


lives.

many

lifetimes.

You can create good karma by helping, by saving

This also tends to create your


"For example,
I

own

longevity.

get migraine headaches.

The wet weather

in

Van-

couver must not be good for

my head, since I've never had headaches anymake


life
I

where

else.

The

doctor couldn't find any source for the headaches, even

though he took
worse. But

X rays.

Rice and sour fruits help. Sugar and wheat


is

it

who knows what karma


It
I

involved?

Maybe

in

another

hit

somebody's head or something.

helps

me
ill

to think like this.

"When I came
think that
I

to

Canada,
it

became
but
it

with tuberculosis. Actually,

contracted

in India

didn't

show up

until

got here.

stayed in the hospital six months.

The
left

doctor said that


lung;

I'd

have to stay
all

for

two

years.

had three holes


that
if I

in
let
I

my

my

right

one was

cloudy.

The doctor told me


but
I

them cut out my lung

I'd get well quicker,

didn't

want to do

that.

did practice in the hospital, like a retreat. Afshrink.

ter a while, the holes

began to

Within

five

months, they were half

their size.

My
If

brother and other lamas offered prayers for me, and that
If

helped, plus the Buddha's blessings.

people believe that prayer works,

then

it

does.

they don't believe,

it

doesn't.

2 2 S

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"My husband was


pital.

sad that

had to spend so much time


in

in the hos-

That

part

was

difficult,

but otherwise, the people


in the

the hospital

were wonderful. Also, the people


kind. Every

Canadian government were very


1

my husband 50 miles to see me. Every me English. At first, all did was eat and sleep. Then, after a month, they told me to do things like embroidery, knitting. A teacher came every Thursday to teach me how to do handicrafts. The ladies in the room taught me to play a card game called crazy eights, and we'd watch movies together. My brother told me to do meditation and sent me scriptures. My husband brought me a tiny flashlight so could read without disturbing the other women in the room.
Sunday they brought
dav someone would

come

to teach

"In the Tibetan tradition,

we

are taught to think

about death and

about the state you enter right after death, called the bardo.
ple,
if

Some

peo-

if

they are very good practitioners, go right to the pure realms. Others,

they're very bad, go to the hell realms.

But most people go to the bardo


life.

after the

time of their death and before they are reborn into the next

In this lifetime
transition.

you practice to keep your mind stable during the coming


is

The bardo

a kind of

judgment

place, not unlike the Christian

purgatory.

When you are in the bardo, you encounter the contents of your
fantasies, as well as places you've visited in your

mind, your dreams and


life.

Then you
"If

are reborn into

one of the realms.


nasty, you'll

you

are very stingy


If

and very

be reborn into the hungry

ghost realm.

you're very lazy, you might be reborn in the animal realm.


will go.

Your karma decides where you


they say that
anyplace.
It's

When Christians do terrible things,


I

God

will

send them to

hell.

don't think anyone sends you


if

your karma that decides. Even

you

are not a practitioner,

if

you

are kind to others, not self-serving,

then

you'll find a

good human

re-

birth.

"You never know about your karmic relationships with other people.

SANDY JOHNSON

2 2

If

you don't have a good connection with someone


in a previous one.

in this lifetime,

maybe

you mistreated them

Buddhism teaches

that you should

We teach the ten virtues and the ten non-virtues, similar to the Judeo-Christian ten commandments. We have
always be mindful of other people.
three in the body, three in the mind, four in speech.
are killing, stealing,

The three
in

in the

body
lying,

and sexual misconduct. The four

speech are

troublemaking, gossip, and harsh words.


a covetous attitude, harboring
ill

The

three in the

mind

are having

will,

and not trusting the teachings. The

speech virtues are very

difficult to keep, especially avoiding gossip

and

harsh speech. Killing, stealing, and lying aren't too hard. Slowly, slowly you
learn these things. In Buddha's time, he learned

and became enlightened.


as

So did
well.

his students. If

we learn,

then, of course,

we become enlightened

"If

you

are guilty of

any or

all

of the non-virtues,

you confess to your


it

teacher, again.

whether actuallv present or visualized, and you vow not to do


teacher gives you teachings that will purify.

The

Buddha

said that

any non-virtue

no matter how
again.

severe

can be
become
tell

purified.

When you catch


If

yourself doing something

again, don't

excited and worried.


I

you
I'll

get excited, then you can't think. Just


try

yourself,

made

a mistake,

not to do

it

No matter how you grew up, you can


that.

slowly learn to

have good values and reap the benefits of


"Tara, the

mother of all buddhas, provides

a verv powerful practice

her

activities are very beneficial in this generation.

Female energy

is

get-

ting stronger now. Also, the female represents the

wisdom

aspect,

and

male the method.

Now that things are going faster and faster, this female

wisdom

is

very important."

We were
an earring,
a

interrupted by a knock at the door.

A young man

wearing

long ponvtail,

and torn jeans had come

to inquire about

teachings. Jetsun-ma

and

exchanged smiles.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS


.

"When

people

come

to

me,

tell

them

to go to lots of teachings:
All re-

Hindu, Muslim, Chinese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism, whatever.


ligions are spiritual.

Somehow we

have karmic connections; somehow we


if

have a good feeling about a particular teacher, no matter


lim.
If

Hindu

or

Mus-

you go to see them and you


them.
are into
it,

feel very

comfortable with them, then

you

stick with

"Once you
Tibet,
it

you can see the teacher

as often as

you

like.

In

takes a long time to travel, so


in a lifetime.

you may see the teacher only one or


at least

two times
once a

But around here, you can see the teacher


that's good."

year. If

you can see them more often,


feel

"How do you
as
if it

about the onslaught of people

who 'try' Buddhism,

were the newest fad?"


to

"Some people who go


want
too.

dharma

centers don't want dharma; they

husband.

Some do want dharma, but

they look for other things,

People think that they are lonely, but they are lonely only in their

minds.
I

A lot of people ask me


They
ask
if I

if I

was homesick when

came
I

to

Canada.
ei-

say no.

was

lonely,

and

tell

them

that

wasn't lonely

ther. In
is

Tibet we say that in whatever country you are comfortable, that

your birthplace.
it

Whoever

loves you, those are your parents.

We
if I

have

that, so

doesn't really matter where you are. People ask

me

want

to go back to Tibet, but


is

my

birthplace was destroyed, flattened. There

nothing to go back to there. But places are the same; people are the

same."

As

met more lamas and

studied the books they recommended,


First,
I

began to glimpse the overwhelming complexity of Vajranaya.


ticed that things frequently

no-

happen

in threes:

one takes refuge

in the

Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma (the

spiritual teachings),
is

and Sangha

(the

community of practioners);

practice

done

in

terms of body, speech, and

SANDY JOHNSON

mind; and teachings consist of


I

inner, outer,

and

secret levels.
I

Then,

just as

thought

was beginning to get a handle on things,

began to hear about

the nine yanas; ten virtues; ten non-virtues; and seventeen points of
training. Vajrayana
is

mind

so

full

of enumerations that

it

is

no wonder the

Geshe degree can

take thirty years.


I

In terms of the teachings, wherever

scratched the surface,

seemed

to uncover

more and more


the Dalai

details, greater elaboration, increasing


said,
it all

com-

plexity. But,

Lama

comes down

to

good

heart, to de-

veloping love and compassion.

Meditational deities, or
the Vajrayana path. As
outer, inner,
I

yidams, form an important part of


it,

understand

yidam practice

is

done on the

and

secret levels.

On

the outer level, the deity represents an


as a focus for

image of purity and perfection. This image can be used


prayers

and meditation. Each part


silk in

of a yidam's representation

often

painted on

the form of thangkas

has multileveled meanings.


The
col-

Manjushri's upraised sword cuts through ignorance; Tara's outstretched


leg symbolizes her readiness to

jump
assist

into action; Chenrezig's thousand

arms represent multiple ways to


ors used, position of the deity,

other beings; and so forth.


of heads

number

and arms, whether they


all

are peaceful or wrathful, presence or absence of a retinue,

help to con-

vey the qualities of the deity as part of the meditation.

On the
which
is first

inner level, each deity represents


objectified, then,

some aspect

of the psyche,

through the process of visualization and

meditation, assimilated.

The

qualities of the deity

one

aspires to are thus


If

gradually incorporated back into the psyche and recognized as our own.
a teacher thinks

an individual should aspire to cultivate wisdom,


a

for in-

stance, they

might have the student take

Manjushri

initiation,

which

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

gives the practitioner permission to take


cite his
allv

Manjushri

as a tutelary deity, re-

mantra, visualize his form

in all of its

symbolic power, and gener-

work with the wisdom-energy represented by him.

On
practice

the secret level, deity practice


is

is

not separate from our

own

buddha-nature, which
is

innate and inherent but often obscured.


rid ourselves of

Yidam

used as a technique to

defilements and uncover

our mind's pristine awareness, our buddha-nature.

Born
first

in

southern

Tibet in 1945, His Holiness SakyaTrizin,


is

Jet-

sun Kusho's brother and cousin to Jigdal Dagchen Rinpoche,


in

the fortya.d.

an unbroken lineage of lamas that reaches back to 1073

The

title

"Sakya Trizin" means "Holder of the Throne of Sakya."


title at

He

inherited

the

the age of eleven,

when

his father died.

Sakya Trizin has founded numerous monasteries throughout India

and East

Asia,

and established

his seat in exile at Rajpur, India.

He

also

founded Sakya College,


training
is

a school of higher philosophical studies

where

given in logic, philosophy, and Buddhist psychology. Since 1974


tours.
I

he has made several world


at the

met with His Holiness

in

San Francisco
I

Ewam Choden Center, where he would be giving a teaching.


subject of his teachings would be.

asked

him what the

"I'm giving a Hevajra empowerment here


major empowerment

in

San Francisco,
is

in the Vajrayana tradition. Hevajra

the principal

deity of the Sakya order. This highest Tantric deity basically represents the

union of ultimate method and ultimate wisdom together."


I

asked His Holiness Sakya Trizin

if

he would

tell

me a little bit about

his

life.

"The Sakyapas

are the

Manjushri tradition-holders.

When a child is

SANDY JOHNSON

J J

born into the lineage, the

letter string
is

DHIH,

Manjushri's symbol repre-

senting speech and wisdom,

written on the baby's tongue with a special

nectar

made

of saffron, butter,
all

and other substances. An


are

early

prophesy

says that the Sakya lineage

emanations of Manjushri, Chenrezig,

and Vajrapani.
"I

was born

in

1945 in Tsedong, about 150 miles from Sakya.

used

to have

many

friends as a child,

and we performed many

pujas. People

think this shows a very good propensity and probably


practitioner in
activity
is

means
it's

that

was a

my

previous

life.

But

personally think

because such
television or
in

the main thing one saw in Tibet.

We didn't have
in

any other kinds of worldly distractions. (Though

our

summer house
had

the park, we'd enjoy listening to records on an old

windup gramophone.
also

They were mainly

British military
all

marches although we

a few Ti-

betan folk songs.) Mainly,

one would see were the monasteries and the


the

monks performing. I would mimic


them.
I

monks

as a child,

doing pujas with

had

a full

box of
I

religious ritual objects

cymbals and drums and


many toys
as they

offering bowls that

played with as a boy. In other countries, children

would have

toys,

but
I

in

Tibet the children don't have as

do

in the

West.

think that
in

how you

act early

on depends on the

sur-

rounding or atmosphere
"In the early
fifties

which you were brought up.


a teenager,
I

when I was

learned English from an


I

American named Jarod Rhotan. He didn't know any Tibetan, and


only a
little

knew

English, so

we taught each

other.

Then,
I

in 1959,

fled to Indiffi-

dia, right after

His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

didn't have so
is

much
less

culty leaving for the border of Sikkim; the border to India

than a
it

hundred miles

farther on,
all.
is

and

was on horseback. But without

a road

wasn't so close, after

"My
came

wife's family

from Kham, and we had contacts


also in India.

there.

They

to visit us in Sakya

and

Her father

is

a cabinet minister,

3 4

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

His Holiness

Sakya

Tri^in

also a

good Tibetan doctor and

a spiritual practitioner.

My

auntie ap-

proved of the match.


ers.

We have two boys and they both will become teach-

My oldest son already teaches and is very serious almost too serious.
"I'm living

We worry about his health.


now
in

Dehra Dun.

teach and administer our college


I

and two monasteries and many other branch monasteries, so


teaching, a
ple, giving
little

do

a little

administering,
advice. Also
for

some

counseling. I'm meeting lots of peoto

dharma

when people come and want


dice.
I

know their
and
it

future,
is

do divinations

them with

was trained

as a lama,

one of our duties to give divinations to people who seek help.


"Students here

come

to

me

about problems

in their relationships.

Even the Tibetans who live here come with these kinds
have learned from the Americans!
It's

of problems.

They

a different kind of society.

The more
dis-

advanced the society


tractions

in

terms of communication and such, the more

you

will have.

So people become attracted to another man or an-

other

woman."

SANDY JOHNSON

J 5

asked Sakya Trizin

how he

regards

dreams and nightmares,

if

they

are another kind of consciousness or


"I

have deeper meanings.

think dreams are of two kinds.


is

One
up

is

a separate sort of conscious-

ness, while the other

like a prophesy.
or, say,

You know
till

the difference through

experience.

Up
more

until

midnight

the middle of the night,

dreams are more


dreams
"I

a processing of the day's events.

But early morning

are

like

prophesy; they have a different feel to them.


I

began doing divinations when


died,

was eleven years

old. After

my

mother

when

was

very, very

young,

my

auntie, the elder sister of


spiritual

my mother,
practitioner,

took care of

me and my sister.

She was an extremely

and she was the one who handed

me

the dice. (She's dead

now My father was married to her before he married my mother, but they
never had any children. She
'At first
I

came

to India,

and died

in 1975.)
I

just played

with the dice, but then, slowly,

learned

how to
text,

use

them

for divinations. It takes a long

time because you have the


the text says, for there are

you have the


exceptions.
I

dice,

but

it is

not always

like

many

think that every person

who

does divination
of each die,

will

have a

slightly different interpretation for the

numbers

depending

on individual experience.

"When you ask if


say no.
I

believe that everything


parts, like a

is

destiny,

would have

to

believe that

karma has two

crop that you plant.

When
If

things are already at the ripening stage, then you can't change them.

the

crop

is

just

beginning, however, then

how well

it

will

grow depends on how

much care you give it. Thus karma


ward better ends.

that has yet to ripen can be diverted to-

"Our present body,

for instance,

is

already in the ripening stage.

Whether we

are beautiful or ugly or healthy, that

we

can't change. But

karma that has yet

to ripen, the

life

ahead of

us, this

we can change. For


act now.
If

example, being healthy in the future depends on

how we

you

236

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

smoke and drink and do

all

the wrong things now, then you'll be very unlife.

healthy and shorten your

At any stage you can change your con-

sciousness and thus change your karma.


you're to die in a certain year, that
still

Even

if

horoscope says that


It is

can be changed.

yet to

come.

You can prolong your

life.
it is

"When

people die,
is

because of three

factors:
is

your life-force
If all

is

ex-

hausted; your merit

exhausted; your karma

exhausted.
if

three are
it is

exhausted, then you have no choice, you have to die;


ier to

only one,
still

eas-

prolong

life; if

two,
is

it is

more

difficult,

but you can

prolong. In
is

an

oil

lamp,

if

the light
it.

low,
if

you can put

in

more

oil. If

the wick

used

up, you can replace

But

both the wick and the


it's

oil are

gone and you

have no more replacements, then

over, the light goes out."

"What do you
hope

see for Tibet's future,

and the

rest of

the world's?"
I

"There are many prophesies, and


for the best.

it is

hard to interpret them, but

The Cold War is


is

over, so worldly conditions don't

seem

too bad at the

moment. China

changing now, they are making progress.

But unless one makes inner


won't be achieved.
fore operating

spiritual progress, the goals


try

we

are seeking

We

should

our best to change our inner being beis

on the outer world. This need

easy to see, but


is

it's

not so

easy to practice according to the teachings. Everything


earth, the people, the sky, the ocean.

polluted: the

These create

terrible diseases, a part

of the prophesy.

The

nagas, the owners of the under earth, and the devas

and other

deities are also very

much affected by contamination, and their


I

being affected increases the diseases.

think

we should do more
and

purifica-

tion rituals, for practice begins with meditation


I

purification."
I

was having
I

difficulty

keeping up. Breathlessly,

tried to
in

match

his

words with what

had

read,

and thought back to

my days

Dharamsala

when I decided
years

these people were naive.

They

are not naive; they are light

ahead of

us.

Evolved beyond us

spiritually,

emotionally, mentally

SANDY JOHNSON

3 J

was reminded of the


occurred to

New Age
is

chestnut "Create your

own

reality,"

and

it

me

that that
of.

Stone Age thinking compared to what these

people are capable


"All

the major world religions emphasize lovingkindness and com-

passion. In
tice.

Buddhism, these

qualities represent the very root of the prac-

The person who


his

practices

and possesses lovingkindness and


establish peace

compassion within

mind can

and harmony within

himself and help create peace and harmony within his family, his neigh-

borhood, his town, his

city.

In this way,

more and more

people's practices

can increase peace and harmony throughout the world. So therefore, whatever religion or philosophy you have,
I

think

it is

important for the


all

people to practice lovingkindness and compassion toward


ings.

sentient be-

"You can become conscious of the effectiveness of


your

this just
it is

from
a very

own

feeling. If

somebody hurts you

physically or mentally,

painful thing.

So through

this experience,

you learn

how

others feel and


especially those

wish to avoid hurting them. Other beings, living beings

who

share our

human

nature

are also brought

up

in lovingkindness.

When we
it is

were born our mothers looked upon us with lovingkindness and

compassion.

When we are brought up in the midst of such feeling,


to love the person

think

human nature

who loves you, who cares

for you.

As

you love

this person, so also

you should reciprocate with other beings.


just yourself

It is

logical, quite obvious. If

you benefit

and hurt other people,

then

think that

is

so clearly wrong.

"Once we
dinary people

create

more awareness among the general


there will be fewer people

public, with or-

more aware, then

who hurt others


at the

and do
time.

evil things.

But we can't count on everybody learning

same

"Even those who have committed major crimes can be corrected by

J 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

the teachings.
negative karma

It is

Buddha's teaching that people who have extremely


killed his

even someone who has mother; own nephew; who harm him may be cured through
tried to
ings.

or Buddha's

the teachwill get

With

that understanding,

all

Tibetans always hope that we

our

own country

back.
it

We

believe that the truth will prevail, always,

no

matter
I

how long

takes."

asked

how he

reacted to the

many homeless

people here in this rich

country of America.

"When
beggars there

the Dalai

Lama came

to

Bodh Gaya

and
is

there are

many

he decided

to give five or ten rupees to each beggar.

Do

you know what happened? Even the owners of three huge buildings came
to get these five rupees.

So how do you decide who

poor and

who

not?

Of

course, you have to try

when you

see a particular individual in need.

"Sometimes

quite admire the beggars. They're happy, singing

songs, they don't worry.

Sometimes people who

live very
fly

luxurious lives

have so

much

anxiety about their businesses.

They

here and there but

they have no time even to talk to their families.

The

beggars tend to have

more time.

know people from


all

the lowest to the highest. I've

been to

restaurants with

the roadworkers and seen

them

eat,

the kind of food


dirt. I've also

they were given, chairs and tables covered with grease and

had lunch
all

in a luxurious hotel

with the Dalai Lama.


sit

And I have

traveled

over India.

On

the trains, people

on top or hang

off the sides. Also

I've traveled in first-class trains in India,

with air-conditioning and won-

derful foods.

And

I've

flown by
is

air: first-class,

and

also in

army airplanes

in

Ladakh, where there


seat belts.

no

circulating oxygen

you

are given a mask.

No
If

No
is

seats! Just a
is

bench.

I've traveled

by horse cart and by lim-

ousine.

If

your mind

happy, even in your ricksha, then you are happy.

your

mind

not happy, then you aren't comfortable even in your fine lim-

ousine."

SANDY JOHNSON

J 9

Jamyang Dagmo-la Sakya

am yang Dagmo-la Sakya

married into a key noble family of

the Sakyas. Dagmo-la and her husband, His Holiness Dagchen Rin-

poche, and three sons, as Dagchen Rinpoche had told me, were the

first

Tibetan family to

settle in the

United States

after the

exodus caused by
a treachsoldiers
still

the Chinese takeover.

They made

their escape

from Tibet over

erous 24,740-foot-high mountain,


at their heels. in diapers

Monla Kachung, with Chinese

Leaving Lhasa

in disguise, the family

the youngest
aircraft.

and

their servants were strafed

by Chinese

Their

horses,

many too weak


later,

to go on, froze to death in

snow 4

feet deep.

Weeks

on the brink of

starvation, the family reached the bridge

marking the Bhutanese border. But thev were refused entry by the
Bhutanese,

who

feared recriminations from the Chinese. As they waited,

their food supplies dwindled.


dia,

The

Dalai Lama, reaching freedom in In-

heard of the plight of some 1,700 Tibetan refugees and asked Nehru

240

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

to

make

formal request to the king of Bhutan. At


entry.

last,

the Tihetans

were permitted

Mother
of the

of five sons,

Dagmo-la

is

much-loved
I

teacher,

and author

book

Princess in the

Land of Snows.

met her in Los Angeles, where

she had

come

to give Tara teachings.

"We were brought


ever.

to
I

America

in

1961 by the Rockefeller


for-

Foundation on a three-year grant.

never thought we would stay here


its

We

were sure Tibet would get

freedom and we could go home,

but after three years


versity,
"I

my husband and my uncle began teaching at the unistay.

and we made plans to


was twenty-six,
a

young mother with three children and

a fourth

on the way. The children attended school, so they picked up the language
faster

than we did.

A vear later

had another son

five boys.

"Learning the language was the hardest part, but the University of

Washington assigned
ping. In

a graduate student to help us with things like shop-

America

it's

so easy

you go
to,

to

one

store

and buy everything. The

problem was,
learn

in India

and Tibet we had many servants


to cook for the family.
It

here we had

to

how to keep house and

was

difficult to find

the kinds of food

we were used

and since we didn't know the measureto buy.

ments, we were confused about

how much we needed


I

We were al-

ways cooking too


India before
"I

much
but

or not enough.
it is

tried to learn from our cook in

we

left,

entirely different here.


friendly,

found Americans to be most

most helpful when you need

to ask something.

But somehow we had the idea that we mustn't ask too


are

much
ties

or people

would think Tibetans

dumb. So we got

into difficulforth, try-

we'd

take the

wTong bus and spend

all

day riding back and

ing to find our

way home.
fast.

'American society moves so

There's no time for family, for elders.

SANDY JOHNSON

When the University of Washington found us a house, we had a next-door


neighbor, an older lady,

who was very nice to us. She knew we were a refugee


we
couldn't communicate,

family with young children, and even though

she would leave toys for the children and give us vegetables from her garden.

We couldn't even thank her properly. Then we didn't see her for a while and wondered what had happened. We noticed newspapers had piled up in
front of her door. Finally, they

went

inside

and found her dead. Her

family,

who all lived far away, came back to claim the house. Thev didn't seem
They just argued over the things she had left behind
ture,

sad.

the house,

the furni-

and such. That


I

really

shocked me.
I

know

all

Americans

are not that


I

way, but

thought:

don't think

want

to live in this country

when

get old.

"Tibetans respect their elders

our
I

society looks

down on people

who

don't take care of their parents.

always loved older people

my

great-uncles,
"I really

my grandmother, grandfather.
don't understand Western society's fear of age. In Tibetan
for the first time,

society,

when you meet somebody


it is

you ask their name,

then you ask their age. In fact


in

impolite not to ask someone's age, but

America
I'd

...

made many name then


all

mistakes. I'd

meet somebody

like yourself

ask how old you are. They would be shocked. women care about how they look, but the difference is, if you tell a Tibetan woman that she is looking older, that's fine. But don't think a Western woman would like to hear that. In Tibet if some-

and

ask your

"Of course,

body

says you're beautiful or vour clothes are beautiful,

vou have to an-

swer, 'Oh, no, no,'

because otherwise you would be showing pride.


is

And

even

if

someone

says your son

very

good

or your daughter very beautiful,


say,

you

say,

'No, no.' In the

Western way, you


I

Thank

you.'

had

to learn

these customs because


"If

was always saying the wrong things.


it

you know the dharma, you know that

is

special to

be a hueveryone

man

being.

You know that no human being

will live forever;

242

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

has to die. You die young or you die old.

Why

try to

make

yourself

seem

younger?
"I

was raised

in a

dharma

family.

My uncle was a lama; my great-unI

cle

was the head of the monaster}. Then


is

married a lama, and


of leaving Tibet

now my
just to

son

a lama.
lives

That was the whole purpose

not

save our
I

we wanted

to save the dharma."

asked Dagmo-la about marriage and divorce in Tibet.

"In Tibet, a son brings a wife


are

home

to live with his parents.

If

there

no

sons, then the oldest daughter


wife's family

would bring her husband into the


name.

home. He would take the


"I

don't

know any other country where this exists, but in Tibet a woman

can have two or three husbands, maybe brothers. Sometimes a family


doesn't want their sons to go to a wife's family, so they might bring in two
wives, but
it

may not work out to have two wives live in one house. They may
sisters to live

not get along. Sometimes they bring two


the same house, but

with two brothers in

many women have two husbands, and that works well.


is

"In Tibetan weddings, unlike Western, there

no

recitation of

what

you

call
is

commitments.

We

don't repeat any promises or anything.

couple

wed by

the

Buddha and

blessed by the Buddha, with family and

friends as witnesses.

"The modern system


older system, even
sleep together, they
if

of divorce

is

pretty

much

Westernized. In the
if

the couple stop loving each other, even


carry the

they don't

still

name and continue to live

together. Soci-

ety looks
different.

down on adultery, but if the marriage really isn't working, then it is


I

have never heard of Tibetans going to a lawyer. They don't like to

make

things so public. Instead the two families get together and settle
If

things.

there are children, the father takes the son, the

mother

takes the

daughter.
will leave

The man

will leave

and take whatever he has with him. The wife

and take everything she brought with her

the dowTy,

everything.

SANDY JOHNSON

4 J

America, the couple decide for themselves to

split

up.

Thev have

counseling here. In Tibet

if

the parents can't work

it

out, then thev go to


a stranger.

somebod)

close to family.
in

But they would never pay


desire

Marriage

the

West begins with

they don't look

further,

into the background.


sire

They

love each other in the beginning, but


falls

when

dea

fades away the marriage

apart. In Tibet,

once they have made

commitment,

not just to sleep together but to care for each other, to have

children together, and to

know

that these children are half of each of you,


is

they

stir [

to

it.

In

America, marriage
is

to live together for a while


I

and

then

maybe
a

separate. Divorce

very rare in

ibet In America people go


exist in Tibet."

on to have

second or third marriage, ibis doesn't


"

9 "Is there prostitution in Tibet

here

is

prostitution in the big cities in Tibet.


it,

The community
don't nec-

looks

down on

but we could never get

rid of

it.

The women

essarily live in a particular area,

but people know where to find them."

"Since you were the


tice

first

Tibetans to emigrate, where did you prac-

the dharma?

assume no temple existed then."

"When wc first came to America, there were no dharma centers. When wc tried to talk about buddhadharma, people were not interested.
Just

one

of those strange religions, they'd think.


all,

They wouldn't
I

take

it

seri-

ously at

and
I

was

a little worried. After

about seven years,

made a

trip

back to India.
going to
ited
I

knew

that
I

we

weren't going back to Tibet and


out.

we weren't
I

live in India, so
I

went and got our things

At that time,
I

vis-

lis

lolmcss the Dalai Lama.


I

He was very kind and loving.


is

cried,

and

he asked what was the problem.


thing
is

said there

no trouble

in

America, everyis

very happ) and very easy financially, except that there

no

dharma.

We

have our

own chapel and

shrine and

we do our own

praying,

but there are


I

no Buddhist monasteries and nowhere


will

to go for teachings.
later.'

lis

lolmcss said, "Thej are coming; there

be some

few years

244

II

BO

later,

my husband and
who

uncle started a dharma center in our

own home
I

for

people

gathered for teachings. Later,


visit,

when my husband and


"
'I

went

back to India for a


I

His Holiness said,


feels

told you.

told you.'
it

asked her

how she

about the West, and what

was

like to raise
first

her family here. After

all,

her children's generation would be the

Sakyas in centuries not to grow up in Tibet.

"Everything you can wish for

is

here in this country. In Tibetan Budit is all

dhism, we would

call it

the desire realm. But here

taken for granted

and people don't think of the

future, so things are out of balance.

Bud-

dhism
"I

says,

the more imbalance, the more negativity.

think children in the


start

West have too much freedom


If

and too much


their

money. So they

with drinking and drugs.

they are lucky, they have

some
a

religion. I've

noticed that

many parents

don't even have time to take

meal with

their children. In the


is

mornings everybody goes

own way, to

school or to work. Everyone the evening and


"I
sit

too busy.

They should at least get together in

at the table

and

talk.

And television should be limited.


I

was a very

strict

mother. Even for birthdays, or any party,


I

would

never have alcohol in the house.

would buy sparkling

water,

which they
that they

would
did.

call

'Mother's champagne.'

Of

course,

didn't
I

know know

all all

They were

very careful to hide things from me.

teenagers

have problems, but

my boys were

really

good.

"They
homes, and

all
I

are

grown now. They

are educated, they


I

have their own

don't have to worry about them.

wish only that they would

have more dharma.


teaching them.

When

they were young,

had

a very difficult time


is

They knew how important dharma


name, but
in society

in

our background

and they

liked their Tibetan


It

and

in school they

were

embarrassed.

was not

easy,

because in Buddhism, there are special


to pray,

times, celebration days

when we need

and

had
if

hard time gath-

ering the children together as a family, especially

they had a football

SANDY JOHNSON

2 4 5

game
are

or something.

Now

they are coming back to the dharma and they

more
"I

interested in practicing. So I'm happy.


I

am much happier now than

was when we

first

moved

here.

Many

students
to talk

now seem interested in learning from women teachers. They like

woman to woman. With a lama, they have difficulty asking certain women have more feelings and a different kind of wisdom.
are
I

questions. But

We are the ones who go through the pain of giving birth, and maybe because of that

we

more

sensitive.

Now we have

more freedom

to stand

up and do

things.

think

women

should be able to earn as

much money as
is

men. This benefits men


going this way.
"I

as well. I'm glad that the

women's movement

work

in a
I

blood bank.

I've

been working there

for thirty vears, eight


is

hours a day.
portant;
it is

don't have a medical background, so

my work
I

not so im-

just part of

something that helps others. And


I

do love teach-

ing in our Sakya monastery.


in all of the four sects

received tremendous teachings from lamas

Kagyu, Nyingma, Sakyapa, and Gelugpaand


initiations.

now I have my own


"I

students on Saturday mornings.

was asked to give Green Tara


is

Tara

is

verv important in

Buddhism. She

a deity aspect of a
in

woman who made a promise that she


all

would always appear


all

female form to help

sentient beings. In Tibet,


as well as
all

lineages worship Tara


is

and pray to

her,

lamas and monks


is

the people. Tara


ask her, she
is

very easy to practice. She

very swift.

Whenever you

right there to help.


is

"To me, Tara


ligions, like

not only a Buddhist goddess, but a goddess of


in Christianity.

all re-

Mother Mary
like
I

She

is

embodied

in

all

women
I

who

help beings,

women

doctors. Every Tibetan prays to her.

was

five years old

when

received a teaching of Tara.

"There are
that
is

lots of deities in

Tibetan Buddhism, but Tara


is

is

the one

the easiest because her picture

like

any one of

us.

Some of the Ti-

246

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

betan deities have

six

arms and four heads, sometimes eight arms, and


practice.

you have to visualize them when you do


visualize
\

But with Tara you can


friend.

our

own mother or your closest woman


practice, first

"To do her
a pure lineage.

you have to find

a qualified teacher

who has
in

Then you

receive the teaching.


initiation,

Then,

if

you are sincere

wanting to practice, you receive an


'As a beginning practitioner,

an

oral transmission.

it is

good

to receive an initiation.

That

gives you permission to visualize yourself as Tara, recite her mantra, and

concentrate on her

mind and your mind


a body, speech,

as inseparable. That's
initiation.

what the

whole

initiation
is

is

and mind

"Tara

a very necessary deity in these degenerating times.

She helps
stories

you to calm down, subdue your mind, to make harmony. There are about her
tragedies,

even
from
see,

translated into English

how she saved people from


lives a

fire,

earthquake.
beast or

"You
creature.

Tibetans believe that underneath the earth


too

And when we do

many

negative things
angry.

destroy the envi-

ronment, nature

it

makes the creature

So

it

begins to move.
as

"But Tara helps whenever you


friend or your mother, or

pray.

She comes disguised

your

someone you

are close to."

"How did you


'As a wife
to
sit

find time in your day during those years to meditate?"


is

and mother who

doing everything, you don't have time

down and

practice the dharma. But

you can keep the dharma

inside,

recite

mantras, and show compassion and love to others. You can practice
driving, walking, cleaning.
I

the

dharma while

But meditation has to be

done

in a quiet, isolated place, so

didn't find

much

time

for that in ear-

lier years.

But

never gave up, and

now I have more time


mother, the

to meditate.
I

"You know, the Tibetan people had a great


so

struggle. For myself,


rest of

lost
I

much:

my

country,

my home, my

my

family,

but

got through

it all

because of the dharma."

SANDY JOHNSON

4 J

GREEN TARA

It

had been arranged

that

would take Dagmo-la


car,
I

to the airI

port for her flight back to Seattle. In the

mentioned that

would be

going to Florida soon to


thing in

visit

my

mother, and Dagmo-la, sensing some-

my

voice, urged

me
I

to talk about

my mother.
I

told her about

my troubled relationship with my feeling that my mother and


wasn't just that

were

ill-suited

from the

first. It

we had
to find

conflicting ideas

and

sensibilities;

we were never able

a single quality to like or

admire

in

each other; a bad cosmic

mismatch. Now, with both

my

father

and

my brother dead,
warm

my mother
with
little

and

are

all

that

is

left of

our family. Yet we have no

storehouse of shared experiences, no fond memories.


to talk about.

We

are strangers

"Impossible," Dagmo-la said.


to continue our conversation.

We arrived at the airport early enough


into her tote bag

Dagmo-la reached

and

withdrew

sheaf of papers and a color photograph.

"I Icre

are sonic of the


is

Green

Tara teachings.

The

ten-syllable

mantra

is

there too, and here

her

photograph." She pointed to the right foot, which hung over the
"See? She
is

pillow.

ready to
I

jump to the assistance of anyone who calls on her. You

know, Sandy,

think

maybe you owe

it

to yourself

and your mother

to ask

Green Tara

for

help

and maybe do some


I

of the practices."
try to

Touched by

this gesture,

thanked her and promised to


I

teach

myself the practices. That same afternoon


line at the cashier's counter,

was

in a bookstore, waiting in

when

noticed a collection of small statues

inside a glass case.

went over

for a closer look.

There,

among

the various

Shivas and Kalis, was a beautifully carved


ald green, seated

wooden goddess painted emerright foot extended.


left

on two lotuses and


It

moon, her

She
her

was ready to spring to action.


heart, her right

was Green Tara. Her

hand was

at

on her knee

in a gesture, the text explained, of granting

sublime realizations. In each hand she held the blue utpala flower; jeweled ornaments adorned her hair, her neck,
face radiated love

and her arms; and her smiling

and compassion.

That evening,
a table in front of

text in hand, statue

and photograph

at eye level

on
I

me,
I

began somewhat clumsily

my practices. However
her of

was doing them,

found they led

me

into a

more peaceful meditation.

dropped Dagmo-la a note, thanking her and


I

telling

my progress.

had also been reading Sogyal Rinpoche's Tibetan Book of Living and
I

Dying, which
ticularly

took with

me on the flight to Florida a week later. am parI

fond of the

poem quoted

in the book, called


I

'Autobiography in

Five Chapters," by Portia Nelson, which

read again and again:

walk down the


is

street.

There

a deep hole in the sidewalk.

SANDY JOHNSON

4 9

I fall in. I

am

lost

am

hopeless.

It isn't

my

fault.

walk down the same


is

street.

There
I

a deep hole in the sidewalk.


I

pretend

don't see

it.

I fall I

in again.

cant

believe I'm in the

same

place.

But

it isn't

my

fault.

It still

takes a long time to get out.

walk down the same


is

street.

There
I

a deep hole in the sidewalk.


there.

see

it is

I still fall

in

it's

a habit.

My
I

eyes are open.


I

know where

am.

It is
I

my

fault.

get out immediately.

walk down the same


is

street.

There
I

a deep hole in the sidewalk


it.

walk around

walk down another

street.

wa slate when

arrived,

but

my mother was waiting up for me.


and apart from her

She looked amazingly

well for her eighty-eight years,

2 5 O

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

steadily failing vision, she

was

in

remarkably good health.

We

are always

happy to see each other


terns of conflict

at first;

it is

only after a day or so that the old patto surface.


I

and resentment begin

thought about a con-

versation
settling:

we once had about my moving from

place to place and never

"Why

can't

you plant yourself somewhere?"


I

my mother

had
a

asked reasonably in her unreasonable way, and


suitable answer. Sentences that begin with

tried to

come up with

"Why"

always inflamed me.


feel

In

my

childhood they had a belittling effect and


in

made me

somehow
in the

ashamed;

my

adolescence they sparked rebellion. Asked

now

same tone

of voice, they

work

as a

time machine, turning

me

into a four-

teen-year-old ready for battle.

Early the next morning,


headed out to the beach
for a walk.

before

my mother
ritual:
I

was awake,

This was a
so,

would walk north


for

along the water's edge for a mile or


breakfast.

swim, then head back in time


I

Except

this

morning, quite without thinking,


I

turned right on

the beach and headed south.

had never had

a reason to walk north.

The
just

scenery and the beach are exactly the


habit.

same

in

both directions;
it

it

was

Now, walking south,

was observing
the words
"I

how

feels to

change even so
a different

small a habit,
street"

when suddenly
I

am

walking

down

came

to mind.
a run.

laughed out loud,

startling a flock of sandpipers,

and broke into

During the week of my visit, there was such a marked change in my mother that wanted to say, "Look, you're a very nice lady, but where is my mother and what have you done with her?" She expressed interest in my work; she even asked me to tell her something about TiI

betan Buddhism.
poster

began to explain karma and

rebirths,

when

the imI

who

called herself

my mother

said in a quiet, wistful voice, "If

SANDY JOHNSON

2 5

thought
turing

might have another reincarnation,


car swerved,

would
I

like to

be

a nur-

mother next time." The


tree.

and

barely avoided run-

ning into a

We were on our way to lunch.


go to closed, we drove to another.
since
I I

Finding the restaurant we planned to


spotted a health-food restaurant,

new
it.

was

last in

Palm Beach, and I asked

my mother if she'd like to try


I

My mother, who
drive on,
It

considers "health food" a fad, hesitated.


let's try it."

was about to

when

she changed her mind. "Sure,

was crowded; we were given the

last available table,

one that

seats

four.

Moments later, a woman wearing a name


With
a pleasant smile she asked
I

tag, "Rose,"
if

appeared with

a tray.

if

we'd mind

she took one of the

empty

chairs.
tags.

noticed that several people in the restaurant were wearing

name

Rose explained there was a seminar on Thai massage, a tech-

nique that combines massage with assisted yoga, and that she was one of
the teachers. Yoga
is

a favorite exercise of
I

mine, one

never seem to find

time to practice enough.

wanted

to

know more.

She showed
told

me

pamphlet, and we introduced ourselves.


asked
I

When

Rose

am

a writer, she

if

by any chance
I

am

the author of

The Book of Elders. Surprised,


artist

told her

am. Rose explained that her

boyfriend was deeply interested in Native American culture and was

reading the book. By the time

we

finished lunch,

we had exchanged

tele-

phone numbers, and


boyfriend's work

had promised to come by the studio


treat

to see her

and maybe even

myself to a yoga/massage.
I

From my
are

years exploring indigenous cultures,


forces

have learned there


that chance

no coincidences: other

must have been behind


had taken

meeting. Months

later, after

my

life

a sharp turn in
say,

an unex-

pected direction,

could look back with certainty and

"Yes,

it

was that

moment."

2 5 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

A few

DAYS

later

visited Rose's studio

and met her boyfriend;


where we met
greeted

afterward, the three of us

went to

a small cafe for coffee,

another writer friend of

theirs, Joyce.

The

waiter

knew them and

them by name. Then he smiled


Gyatso?"
I

at

me and

said,

"So how's Tenzin

looked up at him, puzzled. Tenzin Gyatso

is

the Dalai Lama's

name.
"Your blessing cord," he
said,

pointing to the red string at

my

neck.

Next

learned that the waiter and Joyce both are

members

of a Tibetan

Buddhist study and meditation center.


"Here? In Palm Beach?"
I

was incredulous.

had been

visiting

my

parents in Palm Beach since they began wintering there


fore,

many

years be-

and had always thought

of

it

as a staid

and rather

stuffy place, not

where one would expect to find

classes in

Thai yoga/massage or American

Indian sweat lodges, not to mention a meditation center.


It is

run by two Tibetan abbots, brothers,

who came from

Saranath,

India, in 1980,

where they headed the Nyingma department

at Varanasi

University. Joyce invited


sion,

me

to attend the Tuesday-night meditation sesI

but

was leaving before then.

promised to come the next time

am

in Florida.
I

was reminded that


after

it

was

in Florida

where

visited Pete

Catches

one winter, two years

had

first

met

the Oglala Sioux medicine man.

He had been
Palm Beach,

ill,

and

his daughter-in-law,

who had

house
them.

just

north of
I

insisted Pete

come

stay the winter with


I

When

told

my mother during my visit with her that


with one of the American Indians
I

would be spending some time


a

had interviewed, she paused

moIndi-

ment, then said

as tactfully as she could, "I don't think

we have any

SANDY JOHNSON

2 5

ans in Palm Beach, dear."

could

now

tell

her that not only does Palm

Beach have Indians,

it

has red-robed Tibetan Buddhists too.

That evening my mother and went


I

through some of

my

fa-

ther's things

still

in the
life

drawer where he kept them, and

my mother began
we had learned.

to talk about their

together.

Suddenly we were two women, each with


our
regrets, the lessons
I

our

own

stories

about our

failures,

Come to think of it, we are quite alike. Before left, my mother presented me with a string of pearls her mother had given her on her fiftieth birthday.

We embraced and promised to see much more of each other.


I

had indeed walked down

a different street.

Om

tare tutare tura

soha!

2 5

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

D H A R M A

IN

THE MIDWEST

His Eminence Gelek Rinpoc he was born


the day His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai
palace. His father,

in

1939 in Lhasa on
to the

Lama was brought

Demo

Rinpoche, was the nephew of the Thirteenth


title

Dalai Lama. Recognized at the age of four and given the

Dagchen
to

Tulku, Gelek Rinpoche was taken to

Drepung monastery

begin his studies. His

first

teacher was

Gen Yundung,

Denma

Locho's Root Lama.


his years there,

During

Gelek Rinpoche memorized

the equivalent of ten thousand Western-style book pages.

While

visiting

Ngagpa Datsang

at the monastery,

with several other

monks, the young

tulku's prayer beads flew

from

his

hands while he was

praying and landed on the statue of Penden Lhamo.

No matter how hard


it.

the attendants tried, the mala could not be pried from

This turned out to be one of several unusual incidents. In 1959, Rin-

poche

fled to India in a party of five

hundred. They were crossing a vast

rocky desert with food enough to last one

more

day,

when

three nuns ap-

peared and asked

if

the son of

Demo

Rinpoche was among them.

When
to

they learned that he was, the nuns offered the group some tea and a
night's rest in the nunnery.
last

As the party

left,

the nuns gave

them food

the rest of the journey, and to Rinpoche twenty-five silver coins.

When

the party arrived in India and told others of their good for-

tune, they were told there was

no such nunnery. One monk went back and


his

found no trace of where they had spent the night. Rinpoche believes
father's protectors

must have been looking

after

him.

In 1960, Gelek

Rinpoche was selected by His Holiness the Dalai


group of young Tibetan tulkus
in

Lama

to join a small

Dharamsala to con-

tinue his studies and also to learn Western languages. Eventually they

would be chosen

to teach the

dharma

to people in the West.

"

wa s nineteen

or twenty then.

lived in a sort of servant's cotI

tage,

where cows would come

in at night. In 1964,

went

to Cornell in

Ithaca,

New York,

as a student,

and learned

my ABC's. Through
made
and other

the an-

thropology department, arrangements were


taught by graduate students
'After that,
I

for eight of us to

be

economics,

English,

subjects.

went back

to India to the Tibet

House

in Delhi.

By

this

time the Cultural Revolution was well under way


objects were being destroyed.
handicrafts,

in Tibet,

and our sacred

We opened a museum for the art, thangkas,


and since we
sell

and

statues; a library to preserve the scriptures; a handicraft

had to
things.

make money, we had


I

emporium, where we could

had given back

my robes

and married Daisy Tsarong.


left

"Then, when Lobsang Lhalungpa


over. In 1977,
I

the Tibetan Broadcast,

took

went

to Arlington, Texas, at the invitation of Dr.


still

Norbu

Chen. But

just before, while

in India,

went through

a sort of

teenage

2 5

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

rebellion.

rebelled against the religion, the tradition


drink, to see

everything.
I

wanted to experiment, to smoke, to


to have sex, to see

how it

felt.

And wanted
some-

how that

felt.

All the things that a little too late.


I

were not allowed. But

mv
ing,

teenage rebellion had

come

was looking

for

thing,

some kind

of very interesting viewpoint or a different kind of feel-

some kind

of physical, mental thing that shifts your

body and
it."

soul,

everything. That's

what

think

was looking
for?"

for.

didn't get

"Was
"I

it

a high
I

you were looking was looking

don't think

for highs so

much

as for

some kind

of an

opening, some kind of experience.

Or maybe
and
I

just great sex.

"Then

went back to
During the
I

India,

couldn't get back to the United

States for years.

eighties

began to teach many more Western

students.

Then by 1987

came

to Michigan.

We

have

a small society

called the Jewel Heart.


I

It is

a Tibetan cultural
I

and Buddhist

center."

told Gelek

Rinpoche that

had discussed the subject


I

of guru devo-

tion with Sogyal

Rinpoche when

interviewed

him

in France,

and asked

what

his

thoughts were.
is

"Guru devotion

very important, extremely necessary for Buddhist


a lot of misunderstanding about that.

practitioners, yet there

is

These misIt

understandings are caused by Buddhist practitioners themselves.


doesn't

mean doing
do.

prostrations, bowing, folding

hands

which
it

a lot of

Western people
physical gesture.

They think

that

is

guru devotion, but

isn't just this


is

My own personal feeling, confirmed by my experience,


all, it
is

that

it

doesn't help at

doesn't do any good. People have been told to

do things that way, and they think that


it,

the Tibetan system, so they do


label
it

half knowing, half not knowing,


is

and then they

guru devotion,

which

absolutely not right."

"I've noticed a hierarchy within the structure

around some gurus

that

find disturbing.

Almost

like a cult."

SANDY JOHNSON

2 5

Geleh Rinpoche

"Perhaps devotion becomes distorted because the namaste system


[greeting the divine within another individual]
is

not inherent in Ameri-

can culture.

"The gurus come

in,

so they stand up, fold their hands, bow, but


real

without feeling true devotion for the guru, without

understanding.
is

But true guru devotion

is

when

the guru benefits you, and there


it is

pro-

found love

in response.

Sometimes

good

to

bow down, but

not

all

the

time. Individuals are individuals."

"There's an attitude popular


to

among

spiritual seekers that

you have

be

a renunciate to gain

enlightenment.

Do you

think this
I

is

true?"

'Absolutely not. That's a total misunderstanding.


ity

think the moral-

there has a Christian influence rather than Buddhist. In the Christian

tradition,

you do have

this

vow of

poverty, right?

"Being rich

may be

the influence of very good karma, and you can

5 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

make good use


the way.
sues,
It

of

it.

Of course,

if

you have attachment, then

it

can get

in
is-

you don't have desire and attachment surrounding money

and

if

you work hard


if

for
it

your money, then there


to benefit people."

is

nothing wrong

with having wealth

you use

"I've heard that people can change the habitual patterns of their

minds. Could you


'As

tell

me about
we have

that?"
a beautiful, kind nature,

human

beings,

no matter that

sometimes, because of the influence of certain things, we behave badly to


certain people.

Sometimes we do

act funny.

But we have to acknowledge

that by nature

we

are loving.

"If that beautiful

nature could be exposed,

made

active in the world

to interact with others,


be.

what

a wonderful, kind, loving society

we would

At the moment everybody wants to win something, to win over someelse.

one

"What we have
that

to

remember

is

that

it is

not our beautiful nature

we have

problem with, but with the temporary obstacles that ob-

scure this nature.

Our problems

are

impermanent.

We can remove them,


are,

but we have to see where they come from, what the causes
reverse those causes.

and then

"Karma

is

cause and effect.


result,

The karmic

principle

is

this:

You can

never work with the

but you can always work with the cause.


it.

When
at the

the effects are taking place, you just have to go through


causal level, you can always

But

work with

it.

"We

have to work with our delusions


It is

anger, hatred, jealousy

in

order to overcome them.


a deal with delusions. If

important to remember that you can't make


it is

you make a deal with them,

like

making a

deal

with the
tive

devil.

You

will lose.

So we

need to strive to overcome these nega-

emotions.

SANDY JOHNSON

2 5

"We

don't have to learn


it

how

to get angry.

Anger

is

part of a strong,

engraved, habitual pattern;


to get angry,

comes

automatically. But

if

you do not want

you have to put forth

effort.

"I will tell

you one thing: You have to help

yourself;

nobody

else

can

help you. You can seek help from somebody outside, but the true help

comes from

yourself.

am

responsible to myself,
is

and you

are responsible
are too

to yourself. But our habitual pattern

to

blame others because we

proud to acknowledge our own

faults.
is

"The

true

way

of helping ourselves

to be aware of our functioning:

maintain awareness of our thoughts, awareness of our body, awareness of

our speech. Particularly we have to be aware of our mind.

If

you don't

watch your mind

it

becomes

like a

monkey let loose


all

inside a

museum. The
or a Ver-

monkey might

take a big brush and paint

over a Van

Gogh

meer. Those paintings are really beautiful,


"Similarly within our
as rare as those

rare,

and

great things.
is

mind

is

the beautiful nature that

as

good and

Vermeer and Van Gogh paintings. You don't want a crazy

monkey

to go there

and smear paint

all

over

it.

With

jealousy,

he paints

green; with anger, he puts


all

on red

paint; with attachment, blue. Just paints

over.

So

it is

time

for us to catch that

monkey. You don't want to destroy

the

monkey
it

he has
Then

a right to
it

be there

but you have


is

to

watch

it

and

train

properly.

can be very useful. That


all

awareness. Awareness

keeps the
ings;
it

monkey from smearing

the different colors on those paint-

helps you change your habitual patterns.


it is

"Of course,

easy for

me to say all of this. To put it into practice is


initially.

very hard. Habitual patterns are difficult to change, especially

They

are

embedded

in

our family backgrounds, individual thoughts, eduif

cation, whatever. For instance,

vou have the habit of getting up


resist

at

noon,
if

you

will

not want to get up at nine. You'll

the very idea. But

you

make

vourself

do

it,

then

you'll find that

it is

not that bad.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"The

first fight,

then,

is

with resistance.

Once you break

that,

then

things are a

little easier.

Then

gradually, instead of getting angry,

you de-

velop love or compassion; instead of getting jealous, you develop the ability

to rejoice in the fortunes of others.

If

you begin to switch that habitual

pattern, go slightly into

what

is

positive, slightly into virtue, slightly

away

from

negativity,
"If

it is

the biggest contribution you can

make

to yourself.

you keep on watching your own mind, sometimes you might em-

barrass yourself.

When

that happens,
It is

it is

good

sign,

it

means you

are
fin-

watching yourself. Quite okay.


ger
it is

not so bad to sometimes put your

on your own nose. Instead of watching everybody's


also

faults everywhere,

good to turn around and watch yourself


of Buddha's teachings
is
is

a little bit.

"The essence

to develop as
possible,

much

virtue as

possible, to avoid as

much
when

negativity as

and to watch your

mind.
anger
finds

He had
is

solutions for every problem. For example, the antidote to

patience. But

the delusion of anger

is

at its peak, a
is

person

it

very difficult to
try to

remember

patience. Buddha's solution

that you

should

acknowledge that you are angry and give yourself a minute or


feel a little bit

two to watch your own mind. You may


soft,

embarrassed, a

little

maybe

a little shy.

And when

that happens, the power of anger has

been cut tremendously.

"Some

of us get angry with our

mothers and keep that anger going


it

for years, right?


lasts for shorter

But once you acknowledge that anger, then you find

and shorter periods

of time.
feel
it.

Then maybe you

will
it.

be able

to see the anger

coming before you

Then you can


not that bad.
I

avoid

"Some people may


even recommend
very expensive.
it.

say that anger

is

Some

therapists

I'm not a therapist, but

do know one

thing:

Anger

is

It is

more than the

fee that

you pay to the

therapist,

much

more. For example, say that you've had a good night's sleep; you're happy,
relaxed, in a

good mood, looking forward

to the day.

Then you

get an

irri-

SANDY JOHNSON

tation.
is

You get upset. Look


it

at

your mind once again. Even after the anger

gone,

took away your happy


it

mood with

it.

That's

why

it is it

expensive.
costs

Spiritually,

costs a

tremendous amount of virtue; mentally,

you a
is

clean and

clear,

lucid mind;

and

it

can even cost you your health. There


so

a very close link

between the mind and the body,


physically.

mental
the

difficulties
is

very

commonly manifest themselves


we
can't sleep, right?

When

mind

dis-

turbed,

When we

don't sleep well,

we

start to get

hysterical.

"So

it is

time to watch and to heal the mind. There are a

lot of

body

healers around, but you also


self.

need

mind

healer,

which can only be yourlittle bit,

The way

to

do

it is

through awareness. Learn a

then think,

then meditate, and then acknowledge your thoughts. Through that you

can heal yourself.

And when

your beautiful nature begins to shine, you

help not only yourself, you begin to help others.

Then you begin

to have a

wonderful

life."

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN

D E

KARMA: MADE IN AMERICA

His Eminence
at

Chagduc Tulku Rinpoc he

was recognized
in Tibet,

an early age as a reincarnation of the abbot of Chagdud Gonpa

a centuries-old

monastery and one of the few to survive the Chinese

Communist

invasion.

Son

of

Dawa Drolmaone

of Tibet's

most

renowned female lamas


training from

Rinpoche
and

received

extensive

many great lamas.


1983 established
currently has

After years of working for refugee causes in India, he

came
the

to the United States in 1979,

in

Chagdud Gonpa Foundation, which


Chagdud Tulku

twelve centers in California, Oregon, Washington, Canada, and Brazil.

Now

United States

citizen,

lives at

the Gonpa's main

center in Trinity county, northern California.

He

continues to travel and

teach throughout the world.

"I've been hearing


about

a lot

about karma. Could you say something

how to
The

purify negative karma?"

"In formal practice

we use what we

call

the Four Powers to purify

karma.

first is

to visualize an enlightened being present in the space


visualize this

in front of us, or

we can

wisdom source above the crown

of

our head, either way. However we visualize, we confess our negative actions to that

wisdom

being.

The second power

is

regret.

We

recognize

when we've done something wrong.

We

really created actions that


fully

have

accomplished harm, we've misbehaved, and we


gret that fact

and very

sincerely re-

and

establish the intention to purify that action.

Then

the

third

power

is

to recognize that before,

we

didn't really understand

what

had created harm, we didn't know what we were doing.


ize,

Now that we realwill


I

we won't do

it

again.

We make this
Then
this

commitment: Never again


is

repeat that kind of action.

the fourth power

the power of blessing,

where we

visualize that

from

enlightened being, nectar and light flow

down through
purifying
all

the crown of our heads through our whole body, completely

sins
is

and obscurations;

all

negativity

is

washed away.
It is alive.

"There

real effect in this. It truly purifies

karma.

Some-

thing happens

when we

practice in this way,

something verv tangible to

our
tion

own

experience.

We modify our ordinary dualistic mind with meditafaith

and nondualistic wisdom-mind, with


habits,

and devotion, with wholepositive

some

and our experience can blossom into

wisdom-mind,

buddha-nature.

"Through

this practice, suffering

can be reduced and we can en-

hance our capacity to deal better with

daily things as they arise.

The same

outer conditions can occur, and yet our response, our perspective, our

whole view and feeling

will

be different."

"How do you

integrate practice into daily life?"

264

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"I'll

speak a
I

little bit

from

my own

training in Tibet. There, at the

age of two,

was recognized

as a tulku,

one who has directed successive

rebirths for the benefit of others.


cial.

So I was expected to turn out rather spespiritual teachings.


life,
I

Even

at a very early age

was exposed to profound

Most

to the point of your question about practice in everyday

learned through encountering the truths of impermanence


ings, yes,

from teachand

but also

from

directly experiencing the deaths of family

teachers, for example.


sessions

The

point

is,

the more attached

we

are to our pos-

and relationships

in the world, the

more important and necessary

we

find them, the

more pain we encounter when they change and cease


it's

as they always do. For this reason alone,

crucial to start

by contemplat-

ing impermanence.
"It's also

very important to understand that the highest spiritual op-

portunity
this

lies in

having a

human

birth.

Sometimes people won't

realize

because their

lives are

turning out disappointing or very trying,

painful,
ties,

and they
is

lose interest in taking advantage of their


It's like

human

capaci-

which

a grave mistake.
it,

borrowing a boat to cross a


is

river,

and

instead of getting right at

because you know the purpose

to cross over,

you take your time or you ignore the chance

altogether, forgetting that the

vehicle isn't yours indefinitely but only loaned.


cross the river.
lost.

Then maybe

you'll

never
is

Once

the borrowed boat

is

reclaimed, your opportunity


as a rare vehicle that

In this

way we think about our human body


delay.

we

need to use well without


to advance spiritually.
If

We have a precious human birth in order


far,

we're not able to travel very

at least
others.

we can

make some amount


very

of progress.

Even

better,

we can help

And as a

minimum we can realize profoundly that we mustn't make other peo"There's a kind of ease that comes

ple miserable.

when we comprehend the

illusory

nature of

reality,

the dreamlike quality of life, this impermanence that per-

SANDY JOHNSON

6 5

vades everything. Even as


doesn't

it is, it isn't,

and someday

it

won't be at

all.

This

mean
it

that

we deny our involvement with


fear.

life,

but that we ap-

proach

with lessened hope and

Then we're like


when

adults playing with

children on the beach; the adult doesn't suffer

a sand castle

washes

out to

sea,

though compassion
is

arises in seeing a child's suffering.

"Compassion

natural to every one of us, but because

we have

deep, very self-centered habits,


the suffering of those

we need

to cultivate

it

by contemplating

who invest their dream with

solidity.

We need to deand thus avoid

velop a sincere, compassionate desire that suffering will cease, that every-

one may come to understand the dreamlike quality of


the agony that results from inevitable
loss.

life

"Coming

to an understanding of

impermanence and having


first

a gen-

uine, good-hearted desire to


spiritual practice.

make

others happy are the

steps to true

And effective
be
true.

practice requires a constant reiteration of


will lead to progress.

what we know

to

This

The

great Buddhist

scholar Atisha spent his entire

life in

study and meditation, and he

came

to the conclusion that everything the


gle point: good-heartedness.
spiritual maturity.

Buddha taught comes down

to a sin-

That

is

the essence of the spiritual path, of

This kind of sincerity catalyzes the transformation of

mind and

being, and

we

carry the results into everyday experience.


life

"Applying spiritual practice in daily

begins

when you wake up

in

the morning and rejoice that you didn't die in the night, in knowing that

you have one more useful day

because how can you guarantee


own
help others.
tell

you'll

have two? You remind yourself of correct motivation. Instead of setting


out to become rich and famous or to follow your
selfish interests,

you

meet the day with an


this sort of
I'll

altruistic intention to

And you renew


'With
as
this

commitment
I

every morning. You


can.
I

yourself,

day
as
I

do the very best that

will

do

right

by other people

much

am able.'
2

6 6

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

HF

Chagdud Tulku
Rinpoche

"During the

day,

check your mind thoroughly

How am

behaving?

What

is

my

real

intention?

Reduce negative thoughts, speech, and be-

havior; increase the positives.

When you

look back on your day, you

may

find that

you were able to make others happy Maybe you gave food to a

hungry bird or practiced some act of generosity, a key


Rather than becoming
ever
self-satisfied, resolve to

moment of patience.
to.

do better tomorrow,

be

more

skillful,

more compassionate

in

your interactions with others.


all

Dedicate the positive energy created by your good actions to

beings,

whoever they

are,

whatever condition they're

in,

thinking,
short-

'May

this virtue

relieve the suffering of beings;

may

it

cause

them

and long-term

happiness.'

"Whenever you

find that

you have

fallen short, there's

no

benefit,

then, to feeling guilty or blaming yourself.

The

point

is

to observe

what

SANDY JOHNSON

6 y

you have done, because your harmful actions can be


see your faults

purified.

When you
being,

and downfalls,
I

in practice

you

call

upon

wisdom

employ the Four Powers


cial place, for
if

just

mentioned. You don't need to go to a speis

there

is

no place where prayer

not heard.

It

doesn't matter

you consider perfection to be God, Buddha, or


it

a deity, as long as

when
From

you objectify perfection,

contains no flaw, no fault, no limitation.

absolute perfection you gain the blessings of purification.


"In daily meditation practice you work with two aspects of the mind:
its

capacity to reason and conceptualize


lies

the

intellect;

and the quality

that

beyond thought

the

pervasive, nonconceptual nature of mind.

Using the rational


birth,

faculty,

you contemplate: the preciousness of


others.

human
let

impermanence, karma, the suffering of


rest:

Then you
lies

the
all

mind

allow a direct, subtle recognition of that which

beyond

thought. You think, and then relax; contemplate, then

relax.

You don't use

one or the other


"This
isn't

exclusively,

but both together,

like

the two wings of a bird.


a cushion.

something you do only

sitting

on

You pay

at-

tention to your spiritual process throughout the day. You meditate this

way anywhere

while

driving a

car,

while you're working. That way the

mind

is

always moving toward the ultimate goal of enlightenment. You

don't need special props or a special environment.

We don't have to shave


on
a

our heads or wear special robes or leave

home

or sleep

bed

of stone.

Spiritual practice doesn't require austere conditions.

"What

meditation produces

is

constant refocusing. You have to

bring pure intention back again and again; check that your motivation includes helping
all

sentient beings, not just yourself. Meditation

is

like

the

process of stitching and stitching, of reminding ourselves again and again


of the deeper truths

impermanence, lovingkindness
a part of the cloth

until the patch

is

sewn so strongly
garment.

it

becomes

and strengthens the

entire

6 8

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"When

you are out and about


If

in

the world, you keep your

mind on
you
are

what you're doing.

you

are writing, your

mind

is

on the pen.

If

sewing, you focus your

mind on the

stitch.

Don't get distracted. Don't


get going
It

think of a hundred things at the

same time. Don't


in

on what hap-

pened yesterday or what might happen


what the work
rest
is

the future.

doesn't matter
it

focus, stay with

what you undertake, hold to

closely,

comfortably in what you do, and in that way you train the mind as

well as with formal practice.

"There's nothing flashy about this kind of progress;

it's

very

mea-

sured, steady training, requiring diligence, attentiveness, patience, enthusiastic

perseverance.

"If

you have the proper perspective, everything you encounter


all

all

the day's experiences and

the night's experiences


like a

everything has
an
illusion, like a

something to teach. In
movie.
It just

fact

it is all

dream,

like

comes and

goes.

Now we

are happy, next we're sad, or

we
it.

mav even begin


Things
arise

to suffer extremely.
fall

We have great fortune, then we lose


go, as in a

and

and come and

dream.

"We simply don't have time to argue with other people, to fight. We
don't have time to lose patience.
It's like if

we were going
five

for a

long walk

and we stopped

to rest

on

bench

for

maybe

minutes, and somebody

came

to

sit

next to us.

Why

should we argue with them? Here we have

this short

moment that we can rest, why do we spend it arguing? So in the


we
realize that
it

larger sense,

we have such
really well,

a short

time together, why not

enjoy the opportunity, use


passionate?
so brief?"

keep patience, be loving and comis

Why would we spoil this precious human opportunity that

Chagdud Rinpoche's teaching

reminded

me of a teaching
classes

received in Switzerland, from Dagsay Rinpoche,

who gives

on one-

SANDY JOHNSON

269

pointed meditation, concentration on an object while dropping


thoughts:

all

"Traditionally,
alytical
ject, to

in

teaching Tibetan

meditation,

we use

an-

and one-pointed meditation, concentrating on


explain emptiness. Since not
all

a meditation obI

my
I.

students are Buddhists,


If

ask

each to choose an object that they can identify with.

they find

it

hard to

choose one,

usually suggest the letter

personally quite like this as a


it.

meditation object because of the meaning behind


ter signifies the
"I

This very simple

let-

famous

ego.

ask

my students to divide this letter into five small parts, each rephuman body. Then
I

resenting the five aggregates that form the


to imagine separating the
cles that are constantly
five parts into

ask

them
parti-

hundreds of thousands of
still

changing, never remaining

I.

like

the

cells in

our body. Next,

tell

my

students to search for the


If it is in

Let's find out

whether the

/ is

in
I

our mind or in our body.


resides?
Is it in

the body, where


heart or liver?

would you

say the

the head?

The legs? The


it

"Or

if it is

in the

mind,

in

which mind does

reside? In the

mind

of

the past, the present, or the future?


constantly changing.

The mind does not


are

stand

still; it is

One moment you


the
it

happy and contented,


feel

in the

next something unexpected occurs and you

angry and discontented.

The more we

try to locate

I,

the

more we

realize that the I


its

does not
usually

have an inherent existence,

does not exist on

own.

What we

perceive as something solid and unchangeable

is

nothing but a projection

formed of three
"I

factors: cause, condition,

and interdependency
emotions
if

teach

my students that

in realizing this, all negative

like

greed and hatred lose their targets and slowly dissolve. Likewise,

you

feel

strong attachment or greed, this practice helps you discover the true nature of the

phenomena and

to let go."

JO

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

then asked Dagsay Rinpoche,


J

"If

you cannot find an

to hate, can

you find an

to love?"

"Just the contrary!

Love

in that

way has nothing

to

do with the

/.

When love is pure, it is neither an attachment nor an aversion; it hasn't to


do with
ego,
specific people or objects. Real love has
is

nothing to do with the


If
I

which

involved with attachment, but

is

extended to everyone.
for her,

saw someone hitting


also

my

wife, of course I'd

be very upset
her. If

but

I'd

be concerned with the person hurting

you see children doing


it

something wrong, you need to discipline them, but you don't do


hatred, you

out of

do

it

out of love. In Tibetan Buddhism, you have wrathful and

peaceful dieties.

Sometimes the wrathful


is

faces

seem enormously

threat-

ening, but their motivation

love,

not hatred.
similar,

"Love and attachment may seem very


ferent.

but they are very

dif-

Attachment depends upon believing that an object has inherent


it is

self-nature, that

a solid thing
it

you can possess, own. Love means that

you

are simply

happy to be near

Once we have detached

ourselves from

the self-oriented and unhealthy love, as well as from negative emotions


like

ignorance, greed, and hat/ed,

we have

neutralized our

minds and

are

in a position to

develop genuine love and compassion that truly brings

about changes.

"When
tached.

you learn that


find the
I,

this I

does not

exist, that

is

the

first step.

When you cannot

then you have to look

for

where you are

at-

"In this meditation

on the

J,

you not only analyze

yourself,

but also

you investigate your attachment to your own children and


whether
attached
this
to,
I

family,

and
be

exists in other people. If


is

you
If

can't find an

in yourself to
J,

the same

true of others.

you can't find

a person's

then

what
this

is it

that you hate? Their body? Their spirit? Behavior?

When you do

meditation deeply, you can cut

down on

the three poisons of the

SANDY JOHNSON

N'%

Dagsay Rinpoche

mind: anger, attachment, and ignorance. Hatred can be a form of attach-

ment.

"My students
happy
they
feelings

tell

me that sometimes when they are meditating, unfind themselves crying.

come up and they

Other times,

become

acutely aware of things they don't like about themselves.

They

find meditation too hard because of

what

it

reveals

about them-

selves.

"When students come to me with these problems,


push. Let
it

tell

them not

to

go.

At the beginning,

it is

important not to go too deep.


/.

Go

very slowly. Stay on the surface, looking at the


yourself opening to the process.

More and more

you'll feel

As soon

as

vou get to the point where


it.

you're seeing things you don't like about yourself, then drop
sign that for the

That's a

moment you've gone

too deep.

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

"It's helpful,

of course, to have

someone
open

to guide you. First,

you have

to be interested in finding a teacher,


just like

to the possibility.
If

You find one


the rest
helpful,

men and women


itself.

find each other.

the karma

is

right,
is

takes care of

When

the teacher
a

tells

you something that

then you

know you've found

good

teacher.
is

"My

personal message to

my

students

that by following this path,

thev actively contribute to peace in themselves, their family, their com-

munity; and ultimately to a peace that

is

universal."
as a nurse in a local hospital, said

Rinpoche's wife, Yeshe,

who works

she observed that meditation helps patients. "If


this
is

someone has an

illness,

good time to begin to meditate. You can help the healing process
faith in the

by generating a very deep belief and


course,

goddess or a
are dying,

deity.
it is

Of

when you
teach

are

working with elderly people


to meditate.

who
just

very

difficult to

them how

Then

sit

there with

them

and hold
ing. Just

their hands,

and sometimes people

will let
is

go of their fear of dythe most important

being present

when

a person

is

dying

thing."

SANDY JOHNSON

J 3

PROPHECIES

What

had so intrigued me at

the beginning of

my travels was
The
will

the striking similarity between the Hopi and Tibetan prophecies.

Hopis warn that the time of purification


to look into a great mirror
over, only a

is

upon

us, that

we

be forced
is

and be judged. And when the

purification

handful of people of each nation


I

will survive.

When

spoke to Sogyal Rinpoche in France,

asked

him

if

the Tibetan prophecy held such dire predictions.

"I

think

we

are

coming to

a very crucial time,

when
said,

we

all

have to be very careful and aware. Padmasambhava himself


it's

'People say the times are bad; but

not the time,


is

it's

the people.'
If

The
we

people

make the

time.

It's

up

to us; the future


like

in

our hands.

only

can change.
things that

Some

prophecies can be

warnings. There are certain


if

we can do

to prevent them,

and

we do

nothing, they

will

happen. The choice

is

up

to us. But other things cannot be prevented, be-

cause we've done certain things already.


ficult to avoid.

The

influence

is

so strong,

it's

dif-

'The

difficulty with prophecies, unfortunately,

is

that
it is

sometimes

people don't
people

know how

to read or interpret them,

and

hard to find

who
it's

can.

The meanings can be

quite hidden. Sometimes, unfor-

tunately,

only after they've happened that people

come

to realize

what

they meant!"

"But

is

this particular

time of the millennium,

named by

the Hopi

and

think also by the Tibetans, a time of acute danger?"

"That's right. In the Indian tradition, in Sanskrit,


in

it's

called Kaliyuga;

Tibetan

it's

Due Ngen Nyigma.

It's

the dregs of time,

when

everything

degenerates: wrong views abound; emotions are intensified and

become

more

negative; the times are fraught with conflict;


intellect,

life

span degenerates;
are said to dere-

and people's bodies, merit,


cline.
liable.

memory, and diligence

Everything

is

devalued, drained of nutrition; people

become less

"There's no kind of global awareness. People don't think of the con-

sequences. That's

why karma
ripples,

is

so important.

There

are

many, many kar-

mas, many,

many

which

are interdependent, creating a sea of

interconnectedness.

The

state of the world, the state of the environin

ment

affects

all

of us.

What happens

France affects Europe, the

United States. These interconnections have to do with the collective

karma

you

are not really completely free of others;

what you do has


I

such an influence and effect on you and on the world. So


prophecies as warnings, which

take the

we must

listen to,

and

if

we

take these

warnings to heart, then we have an opportunity not only to change the


circumstances and avert the disasters, but also to turn them into something really good.

SANDY JOHNSON

"We must become


ble;

personally responsible

and universally responsiestablish the princi-

we must have more

of a sense of

community and

ples of love

and compassion, understanding and

forgiveness.

The

basic

spiritual teachings

should be taken deeply to heart and allowed to bring


It

about a change, a revolution of the heart and mind.


to the practice

alwavs comes back

and to working with

ourselves.
this

"But the Buddhist teachings don't speak of

world coming to an

end

just yet.
still.

There

are

many

epochs, or kalpas, and


is

many
is

phases within

them

Anyway, what's important

that our future

very

much up to

us, finally."

"Why,"
tion,
try to
is it

asked, "however

much

people want to practice meditait?

do they experience an

internal resistance to

Even when thev

meditate, they end up simply falling asleep, for example.

What
resis-

that

makes us

resist? Is there a tool kit for

overcoming that

tance?"

"Generally speaking,
tion,
it's

when people

experience resistance to medita-

habit. Ego-habit.
I

And

it

can be laziness. In the West, this mani-

fests as

what
I

call 'active laziness':

we do
if

everything

we can

to avoid the

main

issue.

sometimes think that

we put

half the energy

we

invest in

not practicing into practicing, we'd end up extraordinary practitioners. Yet


at the

end of

it all,

we have

to surrender our resistance. There's

no other
to

choice.
let go."

When we come

to die, for example,

we cannot

resist;

we have

"How can
"That
is

our personalities become more true to our nature?"


is

what the whole Buddhist path

about: the ego aspect of

our personality dissolves, and the unique quality of our buddha-manifestation shines.
will

You don't have

to

worn

that

when you become

egoless you

turn into a vegetable or a robot, end

up

as nothing, or float

around

in

J 6

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

Sogyal Rinpoche

outer space.
really

The amazing

thing

is

that

when you

lose your ego, then

you

become 'somebody/ Egolessness


are.
let's talk

too becomes a manifestation of

who we

"For example,
conceptually.

about the buddhas, which

is

difficult to

do

The

nature of

all

buddhas

is

one, yet each of

them manifests

unique and
rezig
ergy.
is

special qualities.

Manjushri

is

the

Buddha
is

of

Wisdom; ChenBuddha
of En-

the

Buddha

of

Compassion; and Vajrapani


as all other

the

They

are the

same

buddhas, while manifesting their own

special qualities.

Look

also at the great masters, like Dilgo


are considered to

Khyentse Rin-

poche and Dudjom Rinpoche. Both


est realization of the

have had the highthe same

Dzogchen

teachings; both

come from

tradition;

and yet they were very

different.

SANDY JOHNSON

7 7

"One simple
bring you,
it

thing

is

that

when you

discover what meditation can


a

seems ridiculous to stop yourself from having such

wonder-

ful opportunity.

We need to remember the teachings. With the teachings,


and then
to apply them. In

we need

to hear, then to reflect,

Buddhism,

re-

ceiving the teachings educates you

and makes you very aware. So then the

teachings begin to

come back

to you.

Even though there may be

resis-

tance, there's also an inner voice, one which has

wisdom and begins

to

guide you, advise you, and inspire you to overcome your resistance."

278

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

THE OTHER OCEAN

telephone conversations,
plans.
I

Soon after my return from Europe, during one of our weekly my mother raised the sticky subject of my future
was
still

reeling

from thinking about the future of the world when


stay in California

she asked

me

if I

would

when

this project

was finished.

paused, held

my breath,

fearing that her reasonable ques-

tion
I

would rouse the

terrible teenager. "I really don't

know/'
I

said.

My

next project required traveling, but after that

could look forward to staying at home, wherever that might


be, with

my dogs and my books.


feel

"How would you


home, and she would
have you near
get to

about living down here


it

for a while?" she asked.


I

She went on to say she'd been thinking that


like to

was time

owned my own

help

make

that possible. "It

would be nice to

for the next years," she said softly. "Perhaps

we can

start to

know each

other."

thought about
I

all

the years
bicycle
I

had been running from


and rode too
fast
fly a

mv
Was

mother,

from the time


dark.

got

my
I

first

and stayed out past


plane.
it

Then

fast horses, fast cars;

even learned to
I

reallv

my mother and all thought she stood for that ran from? Or from Me feared might see in her? Now she was inviting me back into her life. The teenager woke
I I
.
. .

the

up.

It's

a trap,
he.

dummy. She'd be

telling us

what

to

wear and who our friends


a prolonged silence,

should

We'd never write another word. After such


checked to see
if

my mother
voice quite
said, "I

the line had gone dead. Then, in a gentle

new to me,

the most independent

woman

have ever known


It

know you have your work, and you'd have your friends.
some time
together."
in

would be

nice just to spend

Lobsang Lhalungpa's words echoed


to accept responsibility.

my mind: "Buddhism asks my


family,

us

Whatever I do

or say or think has an impact

not
my

only on
society,
life.

my own
is

life,

but on
life
I

my

environment,
is

my

friends,

everyone whose

touch. That

the beginning of a responsible

That

what Buddhism teaches."

So my clearer mind saw this as an opportunity for some badly needed

karma

repair.

A way hometo find a lost part of myself,

to "walk

down

different street."

8 O

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS

EPILOGUE

The packing goes slowly, but have learned patience. will be in Florida in time for Christmas. My sons and stepdaughters, their chilI I

dren and their father, are making plans to be there.


family, pieces of a peculiar kind of jigsaw.

We

are a fractured

The

pieces can be fitted together

to

make

a whole, yet they are separate, and

we each form
give our chil-

our

own

puzzle. Jetsun

Kusho had
all

said,

"We

dren flesh and blood and

the love and tending

we

are ca-

pable of at the time; their karmas are their own."

On my last trip to Florida


there

learned there was a sangha


I

among

the palms and sea breezes, and

think:

The Wanla

oracle

never said which great ocean.

have met the people

of

Shambala and listened

to their voices as
I

they spoke of the beauty of simple truths.

Moments when

listened care-

fully

and with an open

heart,

was almost able to hear

strains of the

song

of Shambala.
quickly, as

Moments when my eyes saw clearly, I was


train

able to glimpse
as
it

from a speeding
still

images

of that

kingdom

slipped by:

flashes of crystal truth;


sky;

ponds of knowing under

a cloudless, turquoise
in the

and flowering

trees bearing fruit of pure

wisdom planted

time

before time.

To some, Shambala
called Lost Horizon
better.
I

is

a mythical place, a

movie

in black

and white
I

and

a stage play set to


is

music called Shangri-la.

know

know now that Shambala

a very real place, a place a


find.

few other-

wise ordinary-seeming people

know how to

They walk among us with

quiet steps and trusting smiles

and

a certain light in their eyes.

have come

to the

end
I

of this particular journey, gathering along


I

the way the gentle wise ones


to

have met and whose words


I

have listened

and recorded and taken to

heart.

Now it seems am beginning another.


secrets, secrets

The people

of

Shambala hold the

we must once have


first

known but somehow have


within ourselves before

lost sight of, that

peace must be found

we can begin

to expect peace

in the world. Theirs


years, until
for achiev-

was a

civilization that lived peacefully for at least a

thousand

their borders

were invaded. They offer us some practical advice

ing inner peace, a


last

handbook

for saving the world, written

by some of the

people alive

who have

access to the instructions.

8 2

THE BOOK OF TIBETAN

E L D E

BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

s\<r\
3 9999 03019 258 5

BRIGHTON

ICH LIBRARY

(Continued from Jront flap)

camps.

Many

survived, however, to escape


a

what has

now become
Sandy Johnson
the
life

brutally

oppressive

environment.

traveled

around the world gathering

stories

and teachings of Tibetan doctors,

the state oracle, the previous Dalai Lama's tailor, the


great
ture.

women masters the entire range of the culAn astrologer offers to produce Sandys chart,

including the date of her death; a stone carver

shows her the rocks with prayers painted on them


that he places in the river at the
that the water

end of every day so


it

may
her

carry blessings to everything

touches; Johnson meets a


age

woman of

indeterminate

who

lives

life

in a cave praying that people

might be

less distracted

by material things and learn

to care for each other again.

At

the

same time,

Johnson herself

is

on

a spiritual quest,

and interwo-

ven with the stories of the elders comes her

own

physical healing as well as a long-awaited reconcili-

ation with her family.


dictions

The book
life

is

filled

with pre-

made by
true.

the Tibetan elders

course
already

of Johnson's

most

about the

of which have

come

SANDY JOHNSON
The Life
Stories

is

the author of The Book of

Elders:

&

Wisdom of Great American

Indians, as

well as

two

novels, The Cuppi (a Literary


a

Guild
York

selec-

tion)

and Walk

Winter Beach (a

New

Times

Notable Book of the Year). Her work of nonfiction


Against
the

Law was the

basis for

both

a television

movie and

a feature film.

Jacket design by Lisa

Amoroso

The Book of Tibetan Elders

is

an unprecedented and stirring chronicle of some of the world's most


it

precious wisdom, gathered here in attempt to bring

back from the brink of destruction.

"Not defined by age or gender, an

elder

is

one who carries the knowledge of tradition and wis-

dom of the heart, one who walks in ter how revered. An elder serves the
sack of coffee, even
there
is

truth and dignity no matter


people, even

when

his or her

how poor, in humility no matown larder is down to the last


there
is

when

the body aches with fatigue. Even

when

nothing

left to give,

always an open door, an open heart.

Some

elders heal with a

knowledge of natural med-

known or recognized by the dominant culture. Some heal with a spirituality worlds beyond many of those who don black robes and preach on Sundays. Some heal with a song."
icine not yet

M&te&z,

SANDY JOHNSON

The Book of Elders


"No one
seriously interested in understanding

America's Indian cultures should miss this book."

TONY HILLERMAN
'Stirring

and

valuable.'

PETER MATTHLESSEN
"This
is

an important and revelatory book.

Author Sandy Johnson embarks on a journey of


discovery of

unknown

destinations into the heart-

land of Native American cultures.

The

voices she

9781573220231
.BOOK OF TIBETAN ELDERS LIFE ST

encounters are

critical to all

of us who share a

concern for the health of the planet and for the


spiritual replenishment

of those who inhabit


T. C.

it."

McLUHAN
SBN 1-57322-023-X

52495>

781573 "220231