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Published: October 4th 2006
Prayer Wheel House
A beautiful khorkhang, or prayer wheel house, in Sichuan Province.
For the last month I’ve been traveling about like a troubadour. My trip began in Xining, which is the closest major city to Golok, an eight-hour mountain drive away. Seeing a relatively modern city again was quite a shock! I felt like I was living the high life - restaurants with actual bathrooms, a few western faces, streets free of human waste and roaming cattle - amazing! After a few days of errands, I journeyed to Chengdu, a major city in Sichuan province, and there I met Dockpo and his cousin Trulku Yonten, who is now my primary teacher. The three of us visited Chengdu's wholesale district where we found all sorts of bargain clothing and supplies for the little girls back home in Golok.
Since it was still summer in Sichuan, we took a week to drive back to Golok so that I could enjoy sacred sites and scenery in Tibet’s most beautiful grasslands. Sichuan Province, the ever-boasting home of the panda bear, is also known for its lush greenery. The grass is considered some of the healthiest in the whole world, and many western companies have export business based in Sichuan that send grass and yak milk all
An elaborate Zangdok Pelri palace in Payul. Zangdok Pelri, the Copper-colored Mountain, is the abode of Guru Rinpoche.
over the world. It’s obvious that there is something different about the cattle’s diet there - the animals are much bigger, much healthier, and their coats are thick and shiny. Even Bill Gates has some kind of business in Sichuan - I saw the building - but no one I spoke too knew exactly what he is exporting.
We stopped for several days in Aba, which is where Trulku Yonten lives with his wife Osel Drolma. I was sick with a respiratory infection, but even in the midst of that we enjoyed time outdoors in the last beautiful days of Tibet’s summer. We took a short trip in a rowboat, ate outdoors in a tent restaurant and I took a ride on a horse - trotting about the grasslands with a very runny nose.
Trulku Yonten has a rather unusual background. His first training was completed in the Nyingma lineage, and he was a monk at Traling Gompa, the Golok monastery I wrote of in a few earlier blog entries. When he was in his 20’s he was formally recognized as a very high trulku, or reincarnation, of the Gelugpa lineage so he was given the monastery from
Another palace, smaller and simpler, in Aba.
his last life and all of the Gelug trainings. After a few years, he gave up his high lama lifestyle to live in much a simpler way. Now he is a village lama, unaffiliated with any particular monastery. In fact, he does not teach at monasteries or to monastics at all. Instead, he spends his time helping local people in all sorts of ways. On some days, 40 nomads can be seen lined up outside of his home, waiting for a private meeting with Trulku Yonten. He is particularly acclaimed for his abilities to heal illnesses, especially mental illnesses, and for his powerfully accurate divinations. While I was there, one man arrived to ask Trulku Yonten to come and perform phowa for his father who had just died moments before. (Phowa is a practice where the newly deceased’s mind stream is guided through the after death experience.) Immediately Trulku Yonten went to help. So it’s this kind of work that he spends his days engaged in.
Trulku Yonten has great admiration for Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorjé, the 19th century master whose autobiography I am translating. Because of this, he offered to be my primary teacher so that I can
Dockpo standing before a Zangdok Pelri temple.
make an authentic and accurate translation. Many of the book’s references would not be understood by most Lamas, but because of Trulku Yonten’s exceptional training and knowledge, he is truly qualified to guide me in my work. I feel very fortunate to have found him.
Upon my return to Golok, I spent a few days with the orphan girls at Dockpo’s school. While we were in Chengdu, we bought them pastel-colored tracksuits and sturdy hiking boots that will be warm enough for winter. Donning their new clothes, the girls headed off to their first full day of school, as excited as could be. That evening they returned and did their first homework assignment - writing the Tibetan alphabet. Each night, Dockpo’s sister Shangbo and two teenage boys that Dockpo adopted years ago help the girls with their homework. Also, when their school load is not too heavy, Shangbo teaches them English - she is a middle school English teacher. All in all they are now learning Chinese, Tibetan, Math and some English. When there is enough funding, Dockpo will also add weekend classes of Dharma, Tibetan art and dance. He has taught them a few traditional prayers, which they
Guru Rinpoche's Secret Hideout
This stupa is at a Gelug Monastery but since the main lama in residence has deep respect for the Nyingma school, he had 10,000,000 images of Guru Rinpoche placed inside of the walls during construction. If one circles the stupa a single time, one receives the blessings of 10,000,000 circumambulations.
recite each morning before breakfast. How sweet that is - hearing their little voices chanting together!
Right now, I’m in Beijing with three other people - Dockpo, Trulku Yonten, and his wife Osel Drolma. Trulku Yonten and I are working on my translation each day and Dockpo is meeting with people here to find funding for the girls. I expect we will all be here for about 3 months. Beijing is hot, hot, hot. When I left Golok I was starting to wear my down vest again, but here it is more than 90 degrees each day - really uncomfortable, and I’ve been consistently sick since I arrived. Also, because the cost of living is so much higher here than in Golok, we are living in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with two other people - six of us total. There is no personal space whatsoever! Living this way is a huge challenge for me, as I need a fair amount of private time to stay balanced. I’m trying to find ways to be alone each day, taking walks and doing my meditation. It quiets my mind down a bit, but not much. I feel strung-out pretty consistently, plus my
Future Zangdok Pelri
Another Zangdok Pelri temple, with a ways to go.
clothes are stuck to my body with perspiration.
My work is going very, very slowly. I completed about 75% of the autobiography's first draft on my own but now Trulku Yonten and I are taking it all apart, line by line, weeding out the mistakes and re-working the content to present a fuller meaning. I enjoy the process very much, but it's also tiring and frustrating. I can manage about an hour of collaborative time, then my brain shuts off and I need to rework things alone. Also, I can't really speak well enough to understand Trulku Yonten's commentary or to explain the subtleties of my questions, so we rely heavily upon Dockpo to translate. This too is an imperfect method, as Dockpo's understanding of inner aspects of dharma is limited and his English is very rough. I battle a fair amount of self-doubt and feeling as though I've undertaken something impossible. Sometimes I think maybe I'm too old for this training to really penetrate - I feel much less competent than I did a few years ago. But I plug away, day by day, hoping there will be benefit.
I expect that once we leave Beijing, I
A monk repairs the painting on a small temple, with his horse parked in front.
will move to a place closer to Trulku Yonten so that we can continue our work. I am covering most of his expenses now so that he can devote his time to my work, and I hope to be able to continue this back in Golok too. His expenses are pretty minimal, but he and Osel Drolma have two children in school so most of their money goes toward their care. To defray some of my costs, I’m looking for a job as a nightclub singer here in Beijing. I’m told the pay is quite good, and that the demand is high for western performers. I’ll find myself a couple of sparkly outfits and then I’ll start my career singing the greatest hits of Karen Carpenter, Celine Dion, and Barbra Streisand a la Chinese Las Vegas. Should be interesting; I’ll keep you all posted!
See below for a whole collection of photos from the past month. Also, click here
for new information about the girls' school (and an extremely cute picture).
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