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Posts Tagged "sharpa tulku"
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LIKE A WAKING DREAM
By Sharpa Tulku, V
Geshe Lhundup Sopa and I both belonged to Sera Monastic University in Lhasa, Tibet, Geshe-la to Sera Je Tsangpa Khamtsen (monastic house) and I to Sera Me Kongpo Khamtsen. Sera Monastery was known to have close to 7,000 resident monks at the time and was situated about seven miles directly north of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, itself home of Jokhang and Ramoche Temples built during the reign of the 33rd Tibetan Dharma King Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century to enshrine the sacred statues of the Buddhas which were brought to Lhasa as dowry of his Nepalese and Chinese queens.
Sera Monastery which is one of the “three great seats of learning” (the others being Ganden and Drepung) likened to the sun, moon and stars of the sky for scholarship. Over the centuries, hundreds of highly accomplished Buddhist masters following the ancient Nalanda tradition emerged from these institutions. By 1959, Geshe Sopa had been deeply engaged in the geshe lharampa program at Sera Je. He was known as Tsangpai Zoechung-la, the Junior Scholar from Tsangpa Khamtsen, because of his erudition. As we differed in age and monastic affiliation, I didn’t have any close contact with Geshe-la at Sera Monastery. It wasn’t until the mid-day session of the Great Prayer Festival in the courtyard of the Jokhang Temple during the geshe examination of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959 that I saw Geshe Sopa for the first time up close. This was the day Geshe-la had the great honor of debating with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on metaphysical subjects. I remember him a subdued and reverent monk in thick winter monastic robes pacing back and forth, putting questions to His Holiness. This was followed by dialectical examinations by the other learned masters from other monasteries. It was a most important and historical event, the last such ceremony held in the open court of Jokhang before it became the site of unthinkable atrocities during the Cultural Revolution.
As a young tulku, I was sitting near the front row with other ranking tulkus, high officials and scholars. It was a tense moment; the threat of Chinese aggression loomed as Sino-Tibetan relations was reaching its lowest point following the Chinese annexation of eastern parts of Tibet in 1951. Although outside the sanctity of the Jokhang Temple Chinese PLA soldiers aimed machine guns from the rooftops of the strategic houses they had occupied, everybody inside was enjoying this dignified and joyous occasion. His Holiness’ ornate throne was at the center of the entrance to the inner chapel of Jowo Rinpoche, the most venerated statue of Buddha in Tibet. His throne was flanked by his tutors – Kyabje Ling Ripoche on his right and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche on his left. The entire courtyard was decorated with the most beautiful appliqués and ornaments.
If I remember correctly, it was while Geshe Sopa was engaged in the debate with His Holiness that a high ranking monk official, Ta Lama Losang Jigme, the Nechung State Oracle’s medium, was spontaneously possessed. He was quickly whisked away by the well trained Nechung monks who had been prepared and waiting in anticipation of such a possible occurrence. In the nearby Tara Chapel, Nechung monks had been getting ready with a full set of regal costumes and a heavy ornate headdress. Within minutes the Nechung Oracle in full regalia was escorted in front of His Holiness. This was the first time I have ever seen a protector in trance-debate with His Holiness. After a brief exchange with His Holiness, a silk khata was put around the oracle’s neck and while making gestures of prostrations to His Holiness, the oracle left the medium who had to be carried away in total exhaustion. This was a rare moment for a boy of my age and I remember every detail to this day.
I didn’t see Geshe Sopa after this until months later when we all ended up in the same refugee camp at Missamari, Assam, India. Following the tragic events of March 1959, His Holiness and his two tutors, along with a core group of government officials, left Lhasa and proceeded to India, paving the way for thousands to seek safe asylum there. Determined by individual and collective karma, groups of varying sizes took different paths to safety. The path Geshe Sopa’s group took was far less treacherous than ours. Others took a more dangerous path at the cost of many lives. After the initial processing of the refugees, Geshe Sopa and his group ended up in Dalhousie, a hill station during the British Raj in India, and our group ended up in a place called Buxaduar near the border of Bhutan. This was a vacant prison camp for Indian political prisoners during the Indian Independence Movement. There was a special room where Gandhi-ji and Pandit Nehru were held once during their struggle and this was where all the monks and nuns were sent to pursue religious studies. It was these monks and nuns that were later sent to the present-day monasteries in South India.
One day, I received a letter from the Department of Religious Affairs informing me that I had been selected to go to the United States along with Geshe Sopa, Khamlung Tulku and Lama Kunga. I was so thrilled to leave Buxaduar and attend the Young Lamas Home School in New Delhi in preparation. It was started and run by a British lady, Freda Bedi, who later became a nun in the Kagyü tradition. She was assisted by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Akong Tulku. There were many young tulkus from all the traditions. I learned enough English and Hindi to represent our school in reading salutations to Prime Minister Nehru and others during our outings and special visits. I was introduced to Nehru as one of the boys selected to go to the United States. He gave everyone a viewer of his visit to the United States and Parker ballpoint pens which he demonstrated how to use. In March 1962 I met with the other members of the group in Dharamsala and we all felt a sense of great honor and joy to be selected to go the United States. (Although, I heard later that Geshe Sopa needed some special urging from Kyabje Trijang Ripoche to go.) With warm advice from His Holiness in a special audience, we took our leave and left for Delhi to get the necessary documents. With a short letter of introduction from the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Delhi, on May 2, 1962, we boarded our first flight on Air France to Paris. After a stopover, we boarded a Pan Am flight to the United States and landed at Idyllwild (now, Kennedy) Airport in New York. We were met by His Holiness’ elder brother, Thupten Jigme Norbu (Taktse Rinpoche) and others. Among the reception was Elvin Jones who wore a smart suit and a hat. For a long time we thought he was an important U.S. government official!
While residing at Labsum Shedrup Ling Monastery in New Jersey with Geshe Wangyal, Geshe Sopa-la had us lead a strict monastic routine with group prayers early in the morning and later in the evening. In between daily chores and learning English, Geshe Sopa-la taught us lessons on Abhidharma. Because of the demands and pressure of learning English and Western subjects, our Dharma studies suffered which made Geshe Sopa quite unhappy. Whenever we went outside the monastery to visit other places, Geshe Sopa-la would insist on us wearing monastic robes or chubas, which the younger ones dreaded. Later on, he was very kind to let us wear less conspicuous Western attires.
Geshe Sopa-la is man of great learning so humble that the depth of his learning was not much noticed until certain people like Elvin Jones and Jeffery Hopkins made special effort to know him and probe into his knowledge. There is a saying in Tibetan that if pure gold is on the ground below, it radiates light in the sky above and it seems that Geshe Sopa-la was content to adjust to his current situation and remain unknown. It was only when Dr. Richard Robinson discovered Geshe Sopa-la and invited him to teach at the University of Wisconsin – Madison that rare opportunities for so many students of Buddhism unfolded. He produced so many learned students with Ph.D.s in Buddhism, themselves continuing Geshe Sopa-la’s legacy.
Geshe Sopa-la is a person of courage and vision. Who other than Geshe Sopa-la would dare to host the first ever Kalachakra in the West against all odds? Personally, he has shown me kindness in many ways. When I eventually left the monastic order and came to the United States in 1976, he gave me kind words of advice and encouragement. Soon after I arrived in New York City, he sent me an air ticket and warmly invited me to come to Madison to visit him. Years later, when my family and two young sons decided to live in Madison, he and Elvin were so kind to us in so many ways. One day he surprised us with an unexpected visit to our humble apartment on Craig Avenue. His car pulled into the cul-de-sac in front of our apartment and he told me he had a gift for us in the trunk of his car. It was a color TV which he had bought at American TV on the way to our house. He told the sales person to sell him best portable color TV available and it became our first color TV, which we enjoyed for many years. These are just few examples of his kindness on a mundane level.
Geshe Sopa-la’s work for the Dharma did not diminish when he retired from the university after 30 years. His courage and vision brought the fruition of Deer Park Monastery. During the dedication of the temple, His Holiness made an amazing declaration that either he or Geshe Sopa-la, whoever achieves enlightenment first, would care for the other. What more assurance can we hope for? All this may seem like a waking dream, but Geshe Sopa-la had the vision and courage to make the dream a reality.
Sharpa Tulku first came to the United States in 1962 as a 14-year-old. Geshe Sopa looked after Sharpa Tulku and his studies while in the America. Later, Sharpa Tulku settled with his family in Madison, Wisconsin, where he lives today.
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