Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Part 10: Dharma Brothers, Sisters and Elders...

Now I am going to attempt to describe a little of the people I meet at Root Institute. I hope they will forgive me if somehow my description of them has inadvertently put them in a bad light.

First the people who share the same dormitory as me. As I mentioned, I was the only Asian in the room that sleeps 11 persons. One of the first persons I made friends with was Roman. He is a French student. Must be in early twenties, a new Buddhist (just received the Three Refuges at the 3-day Introduction to Buddhism by Ven. Sangye Kandro. He speaks English with a French accent. He is tall and lanky. He slept opposite of my bed.

The person who slept on my left was also a French, but older than Roman. He seldom talk to me and sometimes ignore my "hi"s. Maybe because of that, I have a feeling he dosnot like me very much. Only at the end of the retreat, he warmed up a bit to me. I donot know his name. And there were 2 or 3 other French..Hmmm, did France invade India?...hahaha...! Anyway, one of these other French guys, a burly huge guy, took the ordination vows on the early morning the day after the retreat! Now I know why he look restless the last few days of the retreat. Was he having last minute doubts (??) . He was mostly bald and not much hair left to cut anyway. Anyway, I feel proud of him and another guy who became monks and 4 other ladies who became nuns.

2 beds away on the left was a US war veteran and he now works with a construction company in the US. He reminded me of Hitler because he has a plaster patch on his upper lip..reminded me of Hitler's moustache! :-P He looked fierce and I was afraid of him initially. In fact, I don't like him very much from day one...and I have a feeling some of the others donot like him very much especially after he insisted the lights be switched off for him to sleep on the first day! hahaha...
Due to the patch I think he might be the one who snored at night, causing sleepness nights on the first 2 nights. It was so loud. On the 2nd night, there was the same loud snore, only this time every time he snored "GNORRR", someone else on the opposite side (not sure if it was Roman or not) would follow with a "Phewww" . So, it sounded like music - GNORR Pheww, GNORR Pheww, was so funny I nearly wanted to laugh out loud! O-yes, I did eventually talk to this US war veteran. During one of the Q&A session with Ven. Sangye Kandro, he asked how to explain the many rituals in Vajrayana to Western students. He said Western students mostly are not familiar with these rituals. He was not satisfied with Ven. Sangye Kandro's answer which was very general and too simple (due to the many new students present there). A few days later, I had lunch (or was it dinner?) with him and I told him even Asian Buddhists not familiar with Vajrayana would find Vajrayana rituals and practices hard to comprehend. I suggested to him that perhaps these rituals aid in the path to enlightenment and that was why Vajrayana was called the swift path. He agreed with my explanation.

Then there was another US guy from Alaska..yes, far, right? He walked with me to the Mahabodhi stupa on the 26th I think. The day I bought the robes, which I mistook for a vest that look like a lama's robe. Actually it was a lama's robe! I even tried to put it on and I told myself I would wear it on puja days. I felt proud to wear it. Actually later I found out it was the robe of high lamas or abbots. was so funny. After I found out I asked Rinpoche's assistant , Jampa if I could give it to Rinpoche. He said it was not Rinpoche's size and the cutting was different. I checked with Ven. Tsapel later and she said the cuttign was corrct and she suggested I could offer it to Rinpoche. If Rinpoche could not wear it, he will give it to someone else. That's up to him then. I took up that advice and offered it to Rinpoche. It was auspicious actually, because on the 6th January 2007, I had read on the notice board that Rinpoche himself would be offering the annual robes to Buddha Sakyamuni at the Mahabodhi stupa. It was with that motivation in mind that I offered it to him.

Then there was the guy from England who never smiled to me, never talked to me until the last day when he was about to leave. That also I was the one who approached him. He slept at the far corner on the opposite row of beds. Right on his opposite was Matthew, a native Hawaiian (I think - because he has a tanned look and dark hair) . He was nice to me and someone who considered me as friend. At night he would be alone at the Maitreya statue making light offerings and circumambulating in the cold. I was amazed at his practice. He regarded the Dalai Lama as his guru and also Lama Zopa Rinpoche and another. He had already taken refuge and had taken some high Yoga Tantric initiations before, including Kalacakra from HH Dalai Lama. He is currently studying Tibetan at Dharamsala. Then there is another guy who didnot stay inside Root Institute (he stayed outside at oen of the hotels) and he smoked like chimney. Everytime he smoked, he would go outside the gates. No smoking allowed inside Roots. There was naother guy that looked liek chinese but actually not, from Netherlands. He also stayed outside and had to travel to Roots. If the lecture finsihes late, they had to go back late too. Another girl of chinese descent is also from Netherlands.

Besides Chung Han from LDC, there were 3 other girls - Sharon and Priscilla (the 2 most beautiful Asian girls I think :-) ) Then there was ...hmmm..Oh No! I forgot her name...she wear braces and she's short, and has short curly hair.... was it Mandy? She said she is "not a big fan of Rinpoche"...but came because Ven. Sangye Kandro is her heart guru and Ven. Thubten CHodron is her root guru. I find her friendly and helpful. She and her Singaporean friends (one more elderly lady and I thought is her son) bought small bottles of medicated oil for the many people coughing and having flu. Even though it didnot help much, still it's her thoughtfulness that matters. Then there was Ng (?) Swee Kim, the VP of Singapore's Amitabha Buddhist Center (ABC). He is so devoted and took the 8 precepts for almost the entire retreat except the first day! I think among the friends here, he talked the most to me.

At Root Institute, among the many elders I met was Ven. Tenzin Tsapel from Chenresig Institute, Ven. Damcho (the one who maintains the Sanghata Sutra website and responsible for the translation), Ven. Chonyi (an elderly nun who introduced me at Ven. Damcho who said she will be so interested in my story because Sanghata Sutra brought me to Rinpoche), Ven. Sarah Tresher (I just loved her voice when she led in the prayers), Ven. Mindrol (I am sure she was there but forgotten how she looked like), Ven. Namdrol (there were 2 Ven. Namdrols - one of which is a student of Khenrinpoche, and the other the assistant for Ven. Roger serving Rinpoche at Rinpoche's residence). Ven. Dekyong is the nun in charge of the library and previously served at Singapore's ABC. There was one embarassing moment in which I had to ask someone whether this Sangha was "a nun or monk?" My goodness!??!

And of course, Ven. Roger is so huge. He has a tattoo on his arms (I suppose from his "before Buddhist) days and he wears a red thread on his arms as does Swee Kim. And I suppose others too. I presume these must be those who had taken some level or kind of Highest Yoga Tantra.
Ven. Roger always looked stern to me like some protective diety. Yeah, maybe he is!

So, the above people and others I have not mentioned were my brothers, sisters and elders during my stay at Root Institute. Each one of them has made an impact no matter how small on me, and it is this brother-sisterliness that kept the entire FPMT family together. And we feel like a close knit least it felt so at the retreat!

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