Dispatches from the Front
São Paulo, Brasil
On March 12, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche departed from Halifax to visit Shambhala communities in South America for the first time since 1993. The first center on his itinerary was in São Paulo, Brazil, a city with 22 million residents. Kusung Dave Ellerton and Craig Mormon, photographer Marvin Ross, and Machen Kevin Hoagland accompanied the Sakyong. Brazilian Kasung York Stillman reports:
The Sakyong's flight arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule Wednesday morning in São Paulo, Brazil, a city with a population nearly the same size as Canada. The Sakyong stepped off the plane wearing his robes and we greeted him with katas. Everyone arriving was cheerful and excited, despite having just completed a 25-hour trip. Marvin Ross took pictures as curious Brazilians looked on and wondered who had descended into their tropical world. São Paulo Shambhala Center Director, Oddone Marsiaj, was there, along with Assistant Director, Walter Morita, and myself.
One hour later, everyone settled into their rooms at the Park Plaza in one of the many neighborhoods, or barros, of São Paulo. Within minutes the Sakyong headed to the hotel's workout room. That evening, Oddone & Eleonora Marsiaj hosted the Sakyong at their home. We told him about our center's activities and bragged about our newly made gomdens & zabutons. We then discussed the Sakyong's new books and the challenges of translation, and presented the Sakyong with personalized translations, in Portuguese, of the Letter of the Black Ashe, the Sadhana of Mahamudra, and the daily chants. We ate a delicious dinner, and then at last, the Sakyong and his attendants returned to the hotel and had a good night's sleep.
The sun rose behind clouds on Thursday, bringing cooler temperatures. In the afternoon, the Sakyong went to Clube Paulistano to workout. With more than 80,000 members the club is always busy, and that afternoon was no different. The Sakyong, working out in his robes, was an unusual treat for the normal afternoon crowd. At about 7:15 that evening, twelve of us got into three cars and headed over to UOL.com where Bons Fluidos magazine hosts a one-hour online chat program every Thursday night. The guest "chatter" that evening was the Sakyong. On a normal night, three to four people log on to join the chat after ten minutes...and maybe 20 are logged-on by the end of the hour. But before the Sakyong even began more than 180 people were waiting. Before the end of the hour, 100 more had joined us. After ten minutes there was a backlog of 80 questions! The Sakyong set a record for the most people ever in a Bons Fluidos chat program!
On Friday, we woke up to a beautiful sunny day...and a lot of work. We had three events to prepare for in three different locations! Soon the Park Plaza Hotel had a stage, sound system, a chair with a brocade, a Shambhala banner, and flower arrangement. It was four-thirty and things were going well! Then it rained-really rained: 70mph winds and four meters of water filling tunnels stopped traffic in this city of 22 million. One hour before the public talk, all the staff were locked in traffic, or 25 stories up a building without electricity! But people began to arrive despite the weather, and by nine o'clock we had more than 100 people waiting for the Sakyong. And his talk-well, what can be said? It simply doesn't get any better! It was pure magic. Brazil is in love, completely in love.
On Saturday, we awoke to beautiful blue skies. It was our first meditation workshop with the Sakyong since 1993. We were a little overwhelmed. We had a room that would have been great for 40 people, and more than 60 people, from three states, wanting to get into the program! No Problema. We asked the hotel for blankets (to use as zabutons), added more gomdens and a few zafus and chairs. After a wonderful breakfast buffet, the Sakyong sat on a platform and taught meditation practice and walked around to correct posture. Then something new! At the end of the morning the Sakyong taught "Shambhala Yoga," with a series of postures that he selected. This was the first time he had ever taught this, and it was a very big hit. During the afternoon, everyone settled into their practice and then the Sakyong closed with another talk and answered questions. Before the program closed, the participants in the workshop lined up to meet individually with the Sakyong. Everyone felt the precious magic of this down-to-earth and accessible person. Many people bought their first gomdens and zabutons! Brazil's love for Shambhala has deepened.
Afterward, the Sakyong invited the São Paulo gang, along with Fabio from Rio, and Lely from Limeira, to have dinner at a great Japanese restaurant. Friendships were made and the vision of Shambhala and Shambhala Training is now spreading beyond the city of São Paulo.
Sunday was a special day in a different way. The Shambhala community in Brazil planned a churrasco, or barbeque, to thank the Sakyong and our honored guests from America de Norte. Maria Antonia offered her sitio, or country house, for the celebration. When the Sakyong's car arrived at the gate, the community lined both sides of the driveway, bowing as he drove past. Inside the gate, from tree to tree, were colorful prayer flags from the Stupa at Shambhala Mountain Center. The house was prepared for the feast, with an excellent barbeque by Jose Carlos, special drinks with pinga, cold draft beer that needed a mantra to tame the foam, and a six-meter-long table full of food. The sky was cloudless and the day warm. After lunch, the Sakyong was interviewed by Liane for the Bons Fluidos magazine. Then everyone, the Sakyong included, jumped in the swimming pool. There was a contest to see who could make the biggest splash from the high dive. We have some awesome pictures of the Sakyong posing on the high dive with the sun setting on the Brazilian horizon. In that moment, we tasted true devotion.
After the hour and a half drive back to São Paulo later that evening, we went out to dinner and then met at Oddone's, where the Sakyong created two beautiful poems about Brazil. The next day, he created more than a dozen calligraphies for people and for the center, and discussed the future of Shambhala in South America. Then we watched the video of the Sakyong's trip to Tibet, which increased our awe for the gentleman sitting next to us. The next morning was both exciting and sad. Our guru had been with us for seven days, but was leaving for Chile. Although that precious smile left for Santiago, the blessings are still raining down on São Paulo.