June 15-18: Arrival at Surmang
Today's dispatch was received from Peter Volz and Derek Kolleeny of the Office of International Affairs and Kusung Dapon Mark Thorpe at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, which was 8:30 p.m. of the same day in Tibet. They were transmitting this message to the community on behalf of Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche by satellite phone from above the Shrine Hall of Surmang Dutsi-til Monastery, the seat of the Trungpa Tulkus. It is a long dispatch, so it is presented in two installments.
After leaving Yushu or Jeykundo early on the morning of Friday, June 15th, we drove the entire day to get to Surmang. Immediately as the trip began, the caravan passed through vast, gorgeous valleys, with monasteries tucked in their nooks. From the valleys, we ascended into huge mountains, eventually reaching the 16,500-foot pass called Gela, where two or three feet of snow lay on the ground.
Our vehicles were scratching up against the side of the snow to get through; the road was basically a small, wet creek. We went slowly up over that pass, with an 18,500-mountain rising up above us. We had a picnic lunch on one of the smaller passes, and we were joined by some of the local herders. During the entire journey, there were spectacular mountain views. Everyone was awestruck and beyond words. The scenery is breathtaking, beyond belief. The landscape during this part of the journey was very wet and the ground quite soft in the treeless yet green, cool, lush valleys and mountains. Yaks were all over the mountains, right up to the snow line.
After many years of talking about Tibet, and many planned and aborted trips, and after ten days of travel under pretty rigorous conditions since leaving Denver, we finally pulled in a few kilometers outside of Surmang, where we were met by the most amazing sight any of us has ever seen.
It is traditional to be received quite a distance before your reach the monastery itself, in this case three or four kilometers. Just as we stopped to catch our breath and prepare for the final stage of this phase of the journey, there was loud thunder and vivid lightning. In fact, the signs were all good all the way along; all the tülkus were talking about how auspicious the signs were. We then pulled over a little rise, and in front of us were an incredible array of trucks, motorcycles and horses, with Tibetan monks and lamas waving white khatas. According to the people here, there hasn't been such a greeting as this in a generation. There were 75 trucks, each filled with local people waving khatas. Tree branches holding flags and banners were tucked into the backs of the trucksnot pickups but huge 2-ton trucks, all of them blue, all of them from Surmang.
The trucks started to circle us and people were singing and yelling and waving the khatas. As they started to circle us, they moved back down the valley. The next up were about 25 motorcyclessome with plastic flowers on front and backridden by lamas in full dress. After they went around us, as the trucks had done, hundreds of horseswe couldn't count how manyapproached, ridden by local people fully decked out in their traditional garb.
Along the road to Surmang, there were three or four major lhasangs, which kind of guided us in. All the people went ahead of us, with their horses, conducting us into Surmang. There was a very large procession of lay-people and lamas, including Shambhala banners and many other symbols all along the road. The procession entered the shrine hall, where the Sakyong was escorted to the highest throne. There was a blessing and not much else in the way of a ceremonythat would come later.
Saturday June 16th
This entire day was devoted to one main thing, a throne ceremony. This is a formal offering to the ranking teacher requesting the teacher to remain in the world, and requesting stability. The teacher is supplicated to remain, to be active, and to benefit people. It started with a purification ceremony, followed by taking refuge and rousing bodhicitta, an enormous mandala offering, a body speech and mind offering, eight auspicious symbols offering, and seven royal signs offering. This is performed by the main abbot of the monastery.
As part of the ceremony, a detailed account is read from a large scroll. It goes through the origin of and early history of Buddhism, it's development in India, and how it moved to Tibet. The chronology then narrows down, recounting the history of Surmang and the Trungpa Tülkus, tying the entire history of Buddhism together with the current time and place. We will bring this scroll back and have it translated and made available to the community. Another blessing followed.
Sunday, June 17th
The morning was open, preparing for a Sadhana of Mahamudra abhisheka that the Sakyong conducted, the first ever in Tibet. He opened the mandala in the morning, and in the afternoon we all went down to where the abhisheka was held, down by the main river that runs through this area, a tributary of the Dzachu (aka the Mekong). Over 1500 local people attended. It rained most of the time, which made it a rather challenging event.
All in all, the weather difficulties made little difference, since the principal recipient of the abhisheka was the 12th Trungpa Tülku, which obviously tremendously significant, given that the 11th Trungpa Tülku composed the sadhana. Rolpa Dorje Rinpoche, Aten Rinpoche, Karma Szenge, Boylak Tülku, and Trowlo Tülku were all in attendance. There was a tremendous outpouring of devotion from the local people. The blessing line that followed was very touching, continuing as it did for several hours, including people from neighboring valleys and villages.
Monday, June 18th
Today consisted of two things: a tour of Surmang and a picnic. The tour of Surmang started with a tour of the Dzong (or castle) of the local lord who originally gave this land to the first Trungpa. We then moved around to the main sites at the Dzong. The Sakyong took a knife out and scrapped off a number of pieces of rock and put them in a plastic bag, because this was the actual residence of the 11th Trungpa. Trungpa Rinpoche studied there with Khenpo Gangshar there. Even though it was destroyed after Trungpa Rinpoche left and it is now basically a ruin, we were able to see where various rooms were.
After we saw the Dzong site, we were shown the site where the shedra (monastic college) that was built to attract Khenpo Gangshar had been. Its construction was part of the effort to seduce and entice Khenpo Gangshar to Surmang. The building has been almost completely leveled; however, in touring the site, we saw a footprint that had been left by the 4th Trungpa, Kunga Namgyal. Apparently, he was in vajra posture in meditation for 12 years and then leaped up and this is the footprint he left when he landed. We were all moved by walking through these historical sites. In particular, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche was very touched by walking in this place where so much had happened.
We then went down the hill and across the river. The Sakyong went across on his horse all decked out in full garb wearing a traditional ornamented headress and seated upon a highly decorated saddle. As he rode across, we had to take our shoes off and roll up our pants and go through the freezing water walking on slippery rocksto the amusement of the Sakyong and all the assembled Tibetans. No one died as a result of the crossing, as far as we know.
A delightful picnic followed. It rained at one point and we all had to huddle in the Vajrayogini cave right next to the picnic site. One side of Surmang valley is Vajrayogini and you can see an impression of her up in the mountains above. The other side is Chakrasamvara. The three main syllables of Chakrasamvara naturally imprinted in various locations on this land. We saw one of them today.
Presents were presented to the 12th Trungpa Tülku, including some toys by Ethan Neville and a six-foot-high Japanese kite. He also inadvertently received a gift of Derek's binoculars. For several hours on end, kites flew, frisbees were thrown, and a funny kind of nerf football was tossed amongst the yellow flowers and green grass. The picnic feast itself consisted of Rinpoche sitting down and a monk walking up to him and dumping a mountain of fresh yak meat onto the ground in front of him. The Tibetans all tore into in the usual voracious khampa fashion.
At one point, Sakyong Mipham walked off by himself and then was joined by the main abbot, Khenpo Tsering. They must have walked and talked for three or four hours, which was very relaxing for the Sakyong. Up until then, there had been a sense of being extremely busy. We now all could rest and appreciate fully where we are and what is happening. All in all, it's been a lovely day.
More later ...