How a Holiday Transformed Me
Being bored with life and always finding an excuse to go for vacation, I grabbed the opportunity to go to Gaden Monastery with my sister, her husband and a group of friends to visit a Rinpoche who had invited her there.
Excitement grew as the days drew closer to departure as this is the first time I was going on a different type of holiday – somewhere religious, holy and remote, and away from big cities and shopping complexes. And having heard so much from my sister about this Rinpoche and her experiences during her pilgrimage, curiosity was a strong reason for me wanting to go there.
Seven of us arrived with almost 20 big suitcases of food, vitamins, 3-in-1 cereals, clothing etc. H.E. Tsem Rinpoche was kind enough to arrange a few monks to meet us at the airport and take us to his residence, Tsem Ladrang.
However, we didn’t get to meet him upon our arrival at his residence but kept busy by familiarizing ourselves with the place and adapting to the frequent power cuts. Upon checking the bathroom, we realized that there was no water heater. At that point, I thought to myself, “How stupid of me to come here and miss all the luxuries in my life!” even though I knew that I would only be there for a week.
After having a meal of instant noodles and ginseng tea, and a short nap, we all went out to the garden to watch some of the monks have their dinner. Watching them, it made me realize how simple their lives were – and yet they all looked so happy and contented. Life there was so relaxed and I felt a kind of peaceful, calming effect settle over me.
The next day, after breakfast, we finally got to see this Rinpoche that we all were eager to meet. I had always expected a monk to be doing prayers, rituals and meditations and have a serious, serene look but somehow this big, tall, fair and young monk was different. (Or was that just my perception of how a monk should be?) He was very friendly and welcomed us with perfect American English to his room that served as his praying, sleeping and working area.
We were all cramped into the room with hardly any space for our legs to stretch and there he was, doing administrative work and correspondence, sorting out funds to give to monks and poor families, distributing the clothing, vitamins and food that we had brought with us and explaining to us how things work in the monastery.
Listening and watching him work, I realized that this was the first time that I had met someone who was so caring and giving. Even as his guests, we were treated with great care as Rinpoche made sure that our transport, accommodation and food were well taken care of. The thought, “This is no Tibetan monk. This is a very modern monk” crossed my mind and for whatever reason it was, I was glad I had come on this trip.
Rinpoche was very kind and arranged for us to have an audience with one of his Gurus, Kensur Rinpoche, to bless us. We were also very fortunate to be able to witness a puja which was held in the Main Prayer Hall. Rinpoche also took us to visit some poor families to whom he personally distributed food and clothing.
Being around him over the next few days made me realize that there were a lot of things I needed to learn to be a better person. Never denying that I had no faults, I knew that I had to cut off my self-cherishing mind. “But how?” I asked myself. I had no knowledge of Dharma, and the only spiritual thing I knew was to follow my parents to temples to pray. I had no interest in religion because I felt it was something that took up too much time and was too rigid. I needed to sacrifice a lot of things that I enjoyed in my life that I was not yet ready to give up!
However, this Rinpoche was so modern and understanding. His motto was and still is to “Change ourselves inwardly, not outwardly.” He advised us to read, gain knowledge, continue with what we are doing, be ourselves, have fun but incorporate Dharma into our daily lives. No difficult prayers, no rituals or hours of meditation. Wow! That’s quite easy, it’s logical and practical. And having met this Rinpoche who embodies all the qualities of a Buddha – kindness and compassion, generosity, patience and care, knowledge and wisdom – yet is witty, humorous and speaks my language, I would have to be stupid to let go of this opportunity!
On the last night before our departure, my sister and I stayed up all night talking to Rinpoche, and he imparted a lot of Dharma knowledge and advice to us in his own relaxed, easy, humorous way. Dawn came and we had to go home; I actually felt sad that I had to leave so soon as I did not know when we could meet him again and communication back then in India was so bad and unreliable. However, the kindness of this Rinpoche never ended even after we left. On and off, I would receive letters, postcards, Dharma books, gifts and words of advice from him.
Today, over 10 years later, I am glad I made the trip which changed my life tremendously, although I do still have a lot of weaknesses that I need to work on. I am very blessed that this Rinpoche, who is now my Guru and Spiritual Friend, is still so caring, and always protects and helps me and my loved ones patiently.
Thank you, Rinpoche, for being with us. May you have long life, good health and may all your Dharma activities grow and flourish to benefit all sentient beings.
** Patsy, one of Rinpoche’s long-time students, is now the Manager of Kechara Paradise Penang and leads the Penang Study Group in Setrap pujas every week. She is also the Branch Director of Kechara Soup Kitchen’s branch in Penang.