September 21, 2008

9/21/08 Lama Zopa Rinpoche

This week has been very special at the center. Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the spiritual director of the FPMT, came for a week-long visit to Mongolia. Everyone had been working long days non-stop preparing for his arrival. The place was immaculate and the staff could breath a sigh of relief as he got out of the car late on Monday night. Even the chilly temperatures couldn't keep everyone away for a chance to see the Rinpoche. Although I stood in the back of the crowd, he reached over to bring me forward and asked where I was from. Watching him with his well-wishers all I could think of was his profound gentleness as he blessed each person individually as if they were the only person in the world.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche greets everyone

Lama Zopa Rinpoche, FPMT's Spiritual Director, is the reincarnation of the Sherpa Nyingma yogi Kunsang Yeshe, the Lawudo Lama. Rinpoche was born in 1946 in Thami, not far from the cave Lawudo, in the Mount Everest region of Nepal, where his predecessor meditated for the last twenty years of his life.

He began teaching courses on Buddhism to Westerners in 1965, along with Lama Yeshe. They founded several centers that eventually became the building blocks of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT). After Lama Yeshe died in 1984, Lama Zopa Rinpoche became the Spiritual Director of the FPMT and oversees all of its activities.

The FPMT is an organization devoted to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through teaching, meditation and community service. There are over 150 FPMT centers and projects in over 33 countries worldwide.

It sure was a crazy this week week. Lama Zopa seems to have the energy of a teenager. I don't even think he sleeps, that's how tireless he is. Not only does have have a full schedule of people to see and places to visit, but any free time he has is given to the many people who flock to the center's door every day, some waiting late in the night for just a glimpse or a blessing. Everyone is working hard to make the Rinpoche's visit a good one but I have to give a special thanks to the cooks, Naraa and Iveel (who also cooks for the Stupa Cafe downstairs). Both of them have really let their culinary expertise shine, making every meal a gastric miracle. But what amazes me is that they are busy in the kitchen when I wake up in the morning and still hard at it when I go to bed at night. They are truly saints to work so tirelessly for Lama Zopa, his attendants and the rest of the staff here in the center.

Naraa, the center's cook

Thursday after my classes, I had the honor to join Lama Zopa and some of the staff for dinner at the Puma Imperial Hotel. Our wonderful Indian dinner was provided by two very kind patrons, MK and Ming, students of the Rinpoche from Malaysia. Afterward, the Rinpoche told a few stories. He has a wonderful laugh and when he smiles, it lights up the room. We stayed long past closing but when I thought the restaurant staff might be upset since we had kept them waiting for us to leave, I was pleasantly surprised to see many of them waiting to receive the Rinpoche's blessing as we left.

And on Friday, the staff had a casual lunch with the Rinpoche. It was wonderful to talk to him on such a friendly and personal way. When I told him about my gold-leafing experience at Nalanda Monastery in France last year, he showed the breadth of his knowlegde included the fine art of gold-leafing. After the meal, Ueli introduced us all and described our jobs here at the center. Lama Zopa was so grateful for all the work we did here to help the Mongolian people but also to revive Buddhism here too. Then he gave us each a dharma name and a picture of him with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He also blessed malas (Buddhist roseries) to give each of us.

Signing pictures for us all

Friday night, about 10pm, the Rinpoche invited a large group of Mongolians who had been waiting down in the lobby. When I realized he was giving them a teaching, I slipped in and sat in the back. Like I said before, Lama Zopa has a limitless supply of energy. He taught for over three hours, finishing after 1pm and even then seemed like he wasn't tired a bit. Again, when he was giving everyone a blessing I held back, preferring to give the Mongolians more contact with their Lama, the Rinpoche said "Let the shinny one through." referring I think to the glare off my bald head. Everyone laughed along with Lama Zopa.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche performs an incense puja

On Saturday, after doing an incense puja, Lama Zopa and a lot of the staff took a road trip to Darhan, a city about four hours away from Ulaanbaatar where we also have a small center. So, I spent part of the evening in the kitchen giving the cooks a lesson in the names of fruits and vegetables in English. If I understood right, most of the vegetables are imported from Russia and thus have Russian names because those foods don't grow here in Mongolia.

The next generation

On Sunday night, after the Rinpoche returned from Darhan, he gave a teaching at the Gandan Monastery. It was an amazing temple with close to a thousand people present. Again, with his limitless energy, Lama Zopa taught for over four hours, finishing late into the evening. I have been so fortunate to be here for this visit and all that went with it. It was wonderful to talk with the monks who accompanied Lama Zopa too. I wish Roger, Kunsang and Sanpo a safe return home (Lama Zopa's schedule takes them to Japan next) eventually.

Waving goodbye on the way to the airport