July 24, 2007

7/23/07 Lavaur France

Nalanda Monastery

One evening this week, we had a surprise visitor. Tenzin Sherab, the first Westerner acknowledged to be a reincarnation of a high Tibetan Lama, wanted to come by and see the monastery.

"Among the wealth of information that currently fuels the reincarnation debate, there is one story that towers above the rest. For the first time 'reincarnation masters' are appearing in the West - men and women who through profound meditation techniques can steer their consciousness at the time of death to the precise rebirth of their choice. Having reached this ultimate spiritual achievement, they elect to come back to earth for one reason only - to help all humanity attain the same freedom as themselves." by Vicki Mackenzie from her book 'Reborn in the West'

From the book:
Tenzin Sherab was born Elijah Ary in 1972 in Canada to parents who had discovered Tibetan Buddhism and had set up a small center in Vancouver. Tenzin is acknowledged to be the reincarnation of Geshe Jatse, who predicted that he would be reborn in a place where you need a 'sky boat' to get to. Geshe Jatse was the vice-abbot and meditation master of the Sera Monastery in Lhasa but he left prematurely to meditate in a cave and is thought to have died there after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Elijah had a normal childhood until at the age of seven when the Dalai Lama, who was visiting Montreal, recognized him as the reincarnation of Geshe Jatse. Shortly there after Elijah was given the name Tenzin Sherab. In 1986 he attended the new Sera Monastery in Nepal as an ordained monk. Within 3 months he was fluent in Tibetan so he could debate Buddhist philosophy with the other monks. Tenzin stayed there for six years and was a Tibetan Buddhist monk for another six before handing back his robes to re-enter into North American life.

After Tenzin had been shown the new monastery that they are building here at Nalanda, we all sat out on the terrace for tea and some sweets. The monks were curious about his recent activities which included getting a Masters and PhD at Harvard in Religious Studies. What fascinated me was his command of languages. He grew up speaking English and French in Canada and learned Tibetan at Sera, but during his time at Harvard he also learned Sanskrit, Chinese and German. He spent eight years at Harvard. And except for his shaved head, he looked like any other recent graduate doing some inexpensive European traveling with his Paris-born wife/partner (I never did figure out which). He was a nice, peaceful guy that everyone seemed to enjoy having here for a visit.

Last week was kind of hectic because all the monks were preparing to go to Hamburg Germany for teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. But concerning me, Jean-Francois was also leaving for an eight week retreat at the Kopan Monastery in Nepal and he was anxious to see how my gold-leafing skills were. I was able to do two pieces before he left and he seemed very satisfied. I even redesigned one of the pieces so that it kept within the style of all the others. He half-jokingly and half-seriously said he would be happy if I decided to stay longer because he knew I was a good-worker. By Saturday, no one was here at the monastery except the volunteers.

Some of the monks outside the new building

On Sunday, Fiona who was almost finished with her retreat here talked Toine into taking a few of us hiking. We drove to Mazamet but couldn't get to the hiking paths that Toine wanted to take us because the roads were blocked for the Tour de France stage that started here this morning. So, we parked the car and had lunch on the edge of town and then started walking. France has this amazing network of trails all over the countryside, complete with markers. I was surprised that most of the trail was clearly maintained. Basically we walked up and down the valley all day. As we were coming back, we stopped at the village of Hautpoul that was built on a mountain peak. Turns out the village was having a festival, Festival de Cornemuses (cornemuse is a type of French bag pipe) so we stopped for an ice cream and listened to the music before heading back towards Mazamet and the car.

Toine and Fiona lead the way along the trail

Lots of waterfalls

The hill-top village of Hautpoul

The Lady at the top of the peak

Cornmuses seem to be bagpipes
where the bag is a whole pig hide.

We all kid Toine because he is the 'acting' director in Tendar's absence. "Hello Mr Director" we say with a smile. But he surprised us by declaring Wednesday a holiday. Jean-Francois had given us some money as a gift of all our hard work. Toine decided that we would load up the cars and do some exploring with a huge picnic somewhere along the way. We drove to two Medieval villages, Cordes sur Ciel and St Antonino Nobleval. It was fun just to walk around and see the sites. We ended up having a grand picnic that Andre prepared for us along the banks of a river. Just a wonderful day.

It was a long climb up
to the medieval city of Cordes sur Ciel

Lots of old buildings

And beautiful homes

Found more references
to St Jaques (St James)

Had a great picnic along the banks

Next we headed to St Antonino Nobleval

Beautiful stained glass in the church

An amazing waterfront for such a small town

Homes along the river

And we finish with flowers