Sunday, October 12, 2003

Sky Burial - Part 1 of 3

I read the accounts of sky burials posted on the blog. I have never seen one, but many of my close friends, including my fourteen year old son and his mother, were presumably at the Drikung Thil burial described by Dave and watched the vultures too. As I read, it was easy to imagine being there myself. The experience made me think of my own less exotic vulture encounter.

For four years running we had fairly large summer retreats with Rinpoche out behind my house in the country. We would put up a large tent for the throne, a shrine and 75 to 125 participants. A second tent provided shelter for cooking, dining and a small store selling dharma goods. Rinpoche stayed in my upstairs bedroom and his attendants in a small room immediately adjoining it. Our translator and some others stayed in the downstairs bedrooms. Most of the rest of us were scattered outside around the property, in woods or on the hill, in small camping tents.

Rinpoche's room was always filled with flowers and thangkas. When he wasn't teaching or giving interviews, he seemed to meditate in his room constantly. I don't think he slept much, if at all. Although we went to great pains to have the best of everything for him and would have given him anything, he was a very low-impact guest. The first year he argued with me for a full twenty minutes that I should be in my bedroom and that he should be out in a tent. He relented only when I responded in desperation that my karmic lama, in India, would want me to do it this way. Then it was suddenly okay and he never mentioned it again. Still, every year he carefully spread a small non-descript towel over the lovely comforter and refused to get under the covers.

Whenever Rinpoche left, other than small changes you'd only find days later, the lovely smell and the left-behind flowers, it was hard to tell he had ever been there. He would leave a small picture on the shrine, a beautiful tsa tsa from the batch used to fill his stupa standing in front of my offering mandala, or a small picture of Chenrezig in the corner of the portrait of my karmic lama. He showed me that small picture after placing it and said, "You have to understand. For me there is absolutely no difference whatsoever between this small picture and the actual bodhisattva." One year we'd left a dharma calendar on the wall in his room. The way it was designed, the picture of HH Dalai Lama on the front cover hung upside down and against the wall when the calendar was hanging open to display the month. When Rinpoche left I found it closed and rehung so that the image of His Holiness was upright and facing out into the room. Even a calendar can't stop the inexorable progression of time; taking refuge in His Holiness is timeless.


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