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Shambhala Congress

Golok and the Home Stretch

The following dispatch was received in a phone conversation with Peter Volz and Derek Kolleeny of the Shambhala Office of International Affairs and Kusung Dapön Mark Thorpe calling from Da-ü, the capital of Golok, Tibet, where the mountain Magyal Pomra may be seen, at approximately 10:14 a.m. eastern standard time or approximately 10:14 p.m. in Tibet. Mr. Volz, who described the party as the "battle-hardened pilgrims," was holding the antenna out the window of his hotel room, the fifth different room in the fifth different town in as many nights. The satellite connection kept breaking off. They had to re-call six times.

Since the delegation is now making its way back to Beijing and will arrive in the United States on Monday, July 16, this will be the last dispatch from the Tibet delegation. We will of course report on the safe return of the party.

July 6

When we last spoke, we were in the parking lot in Ganzi on this morning. Today, we embarked for Pema, which is due north. We had thought that we might camp out on the way, since this would be such a long journey. This turned out to be the second hardest travel day of the trip, traveling for eighteen and a half hours on some roads that were mind-bendingly difficult to navigate. Nevertheless, we decided to push on, in spite of about six breakdowns with the vehicles-flat tires, snapped breakline, front headlights going out at midnight and never coming back, distributor problems, all kinds of car problems. The roads were not clearly marked. The Kusung Dapön had to navigate a couple of different incomplete maps, and he became the hero of the day because he figured the x$%#@#% maps out and kept us going in the right direction, although frankly we didn't actually know what town we were arriving into when we emerged from the wilderness. We knew that we would end up in a town we eventually wanted to be at if we just kept going north. It was a clear night so we were actually using the stars at one point to make sure we were going north.

At dusk, about 9 p.m., we came upon a town that as far as we could tell had never seen a Westerner before. The entire town of about 50 people came out. It's called Nyelung and there is probably not 1 in 1000 people even in this province that know this little town.

We then went over a pass in the pitch black, and coming down off the other side of the pass were just sheer drops. The drivers were doing these exercises they do to keep awake where they move their arms a lot, which is usually a bad sign, so we were forcing ourselves to stay awake to keep them awake. One of those. A really intense experience.

Having left at daybreak, we arrived just outside our destination of Pema at about 1:30 in the morning and suddenly we were on paved road about a mile outside of town. We then encountered major construction actually going on in the middle of the night, blocking our progress so that we could not go any further.(There's construction happening everywhere over here.) The drivers got out and started running around trying to figure out what to do, finally discovering a way to get around the obstruction. Then we came upon two people standing in the middle of the street waving their arms, which we took to be hitchhikers or vagabonds wandering the streets. It turns out we were wrong. It was the mayor. He was there to greet us and offer us hotel rooms and a meal. Wow.

July 7

We left today for the delegation's main Golok arrival in Dharlag, a small town on the Yellow River. Thankfully, this was an easy day of driving. A huge reception-cars, horses, motorcycles. People were throwing these little different-colored square paper windhorse confetti that they throw here. An encampment kind of set-up greeted us, a red carpet leading into a tent. As we pulled in, we had seen about 30 horses. As we got into the camp, it turned out that the receiving party included many people dressed in full costume representing Gesar and his 30 pati warriors and dralas. These were very good costumes, extremely realistic. The "performers" were wearing make-up, beards, helmets, banners coming off the helmets. These were good riders with big horses. It was all very detailed and realistic, like a professional movie set, yet real.

After Rinpoche came in, they all came in with their horses. Then following the reception, they wanted Rinpoche to get on a horse, so he did and rode off with them into the field. Then he returned at the front of the group along with Gesar. This of course was one of the primo photo ops of the whole trip. Then they all sat down in warrior posture and made ritual offerings of chang and other substances, which was followed by offerings of dance and music. It was a folk ritual but it was in no way a copy of anything else. It was completely authentic.

During the reception there were quite a number of speeches. In fact, speeches are very popular in Golok, so we've been listening to quite a few while we've been here. Right at the end of the end of the last speech, there was thunder, lightning and very heavy rain, which made everyone overjoyed. Family members of Lama Chönam were there. Tulkü Karzang Dorje, who now lives in Vancouver and is a cousin of Lama Chönam, happened to be there. He has been with us ever since.

After that they escorted the Sakyong and party up to the monastery of this area, called Weyen, which has just started to be rebuilt after waiting a long time for permission. It sits up on a hill that affords a beautiful view of the area's two valleys, one called "enriching" and one called "abundance," a very special site. A huge rainbow materialized behind the Sakyong and went back down into the campground where we had been. It was a little hard to believe. The Sakyong gave them the Shambhala flag and they wanted to raise it. So, it was tied to a pole and raised up and tied to the roof of the monastery, whereupon we sung the Shambhala Anthem. It was a very beautiful time, late in the day, overlooking lush valleys.

Then, we went down and had dinner and listened to many speeches and received gifts. I (Peter Volz) was given a recently deceased fox, which I still have in my hotel room. I don't quite know what to do with it. Adam Lobel gave a great speech. We've become kind of toastmasters here in Golok.

July 8

Today, we went to Gesar's palace (having been to Gesar's birthplace the previous week). This is where Gesar was mainly located and now it has been rebuilt into a very nice monastery up on a hillside. They recently discovered through divination a Gesar footprint and a hoofprint of his horse in rock, which they brought to the monastery that day. One of the khenpos there is one of the four main khenpos of Jigme Phuntsok and he was there specially to receive us. He has raised funds to build a nice, new large orphanage with 75 children. They were all there and they came in to be blessed by Rinpoche. Following that, they sang a longevity chant for him that the khenpo had written and that they had memorized. It was very moving.

This monastery is a branch of the larger monastery Traling, which we then visited. This is a famous place where Longchenpa spent a lot of time. Their main shrine is a 10-foot-tall gold chöten (stupa) that holds the eyes, heart, and tongue of Longchenpa fused together. This is a very important monastery, and a few tulküs from there have been to the West, one of whom, Lingtrul Rinpoche, will be at the stupa consecration. He now lives in San Francisco.

At Traling, there was a very unusual shrine that was apparently designed according to the exact instructions of Mipham the Great. It was not very high, but long and thin. It had the buddhas of the three times in the middle, standing bodhisattvas in the back, arhats and protectors of the four directions in the front. Very beautiful gold statues but not at all the usual Tibetan shrine that we've seen.

We then drove to Gande, which was basically just a halfway point to the capital of Golok. It was an easy, perhaps four-hour drive to get there. We were greeted very nicely by the mayor there and were served a wonderful meal. This is the hometown of Lama Chönam's cousin who now lives in Vancouver, Tulkü Karzang Dorje, whom we mentioned above. He was our host there and we received regal hospitality.

July 9

This was supposed to be an easy drive of 86 kilometers to get to the Golok capital, Da-ü. It took us 8 hours. We had major vehicle problems. Stuck in the mud for an hour. Two of the vehicles broke down. Yet another nearly impassable road. There was a huge hailstorm that covered a mountain with what looked like snow, but it was hail. Then, we arrived at Da-ü, and had a pretty low key reception at first.

That night, we went out to dinner at a restaurant near the guest house, where our hosts put on a huge blowout with lots of singing and dancing. They made us all sing or dance or do something creative and/or wild. Derek Kolleeny for his part did a rendition of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" with group participation. The only problem was he kept mixing it up with B-I-N-G-O. I don't think anyone, Tibetan or Westerner, will ever forget it. Mark Thorpe sang a beautiful folk song, Northwest Passage. He seems to be the only one in the delegation who can carry a tune. The party continued until 1 in the morning. We had a fabulous time.

July 10

Today, we started out late, about 11:30 or 12:00. We then spent about five hours in a tent in the middle of the grasslands. It's very cold and wet here now. If the sun had been out and clear, we would have had a beautiful view of Magyal Pomra. (We hope to see it tomorrow.) Things started out low key, but then we started drinking and toasting and the mood became extremely festive. Adam might be married to one of the women there. Three or four of us were made honorary Golokpas. Much toasting and people dancing in lovely native costumes.

For this stage of the trip we have been in Mipham country. This is where he lived; every monastery we've visited has some connection with him somehow. One of our hosts here is the ex-Governor of Golok, who is the grand-nephew of Mipham the Great. There are also several other family members here. It is known as the Ju family. We met one of our hosts here today who is one of the best known poets in Tibet, Ju-Kalsung. So there is both a spiritual and family lineage connection happening here in the Golok phase of this journey. Very strong karmic connection here. At one point in toasting we mentioned "Mukpo Dong" and one of the hosts got up and raised his hands in the air. They seem to speak our language, as it were. We've entered another world yet again.

The Sakyong had a two-hour meeting with the ex-Governor, Ju-Kunze, today and will meet with him again tomorrow. There is also Norde, one of the main Mipham scholars, a layperson is also one of our hosts. He is a tulkü and has high government connections and is one of our main hosts. In some ways, this is the place where we've had the most earthy connection with people.

We should have an easy day tomorrow and then we have one more night here. We're going to host a banquet for our hosts in Da-ü tomorrow night, and then we drive back to Xining on July 12, then on to Beijing and homeward on the 16th. This very wonderful party is coming to a close. As the Kusung Dapon said, "We're more than a little tired now and the horses are starting to look toward the barn." This will be our last transmission until we are back home. Tashi Delek.

Journey's End

In a phone message from San Francisco International Airport, Terry Tighe Rupon reported Monday that the Sakyong and his party had arrived safe and sound and "all looking pretty good". After clearing customs, the party took a late morning flight to Denver, on their way to RMSC for Vajra Assembly and the Stupa Consecration. With the Sakyong and his party safely back in North America, this will be the last dispatch to the sangha in this series. It was our pleasure to keep you informed of the activities of the Sakyong and the rest of the Tibet delegation, and we look forward to future correspondence from other activities and events. Thank you.

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