Travel Diary: Déjà vu, Tibetan Buddhism, Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, his Cat and I …

What do I know about Tibetan Buddhism?

For some karmic (?) reason, my driver mistook Lingdum Monastery for Rumtek Monastery, dropping me at the foot of the hill, again to make my way up yet another hill, totally disregarding my lack of physical ability …

ahhh… this time around, the ‘hill’ are steep stairs leading to a huge open courtyard surrounded by doors … that as predicted transported me to another realm, or more accurately the Déjà vu of my pre-travel dream! {read HERE}

Proceeding up yet another two flights of steep steps, I finally made it to the main monastery building with loud ear-drum-bursting-decibels chanting and drumming emitting from a partially closed heavy red wooden door.
Photo © Penelope Gan – All Rights Reserved – Lingdum Monastery – Main Building 

With nothing else to do (and see), and of course still assuming that this is Rumtek Gompa with the BIG BIG BIG Buddha installation, I took the chance and stepped into the dimly lit prayer hall … taking one slow step at the time, observing the monk’s reactions towards my presence.
Pushing my luck further, I slowly raised my camera and made some gestures to the senior monks that were observing and disciplining the novices at their recitals (as well as my movements). Given the subtle nod (or so I imagined to my convenience!) I started clicking; cursing under my breath for the audible “clack clack clack” sound Nikon makes while silently ‘praying’ that I will not be shown the door.
 Photo © Penelope Gan – All Rights Reserved – Prayer Hall, Lingdum Monastery

Bored of photographing monks cleanly shaven heads and red shrouds from the back, I decided to ask if there was actually a senior monk – an abbot sort of rank – in any of these sort of monastery as it has been claimed. You know, just for the heck of it. And holy moly I was told that he is in residence! and arrangements were promptly made for me to meet him when I replied that I came from Malaysia. No name was provided as it was assumed that everyone knew who he is. More importantly, it was assumed that I knew who he is, having traveled the distance for an appearance! So, with that scratchy information and confirmation, I was led to a back stairway behind the prayer hall and was received by a lama on the upper floor and showed to a spartan seat outside doorways that are shielded from one’s view with a curtain. My reaction? aiyoh, so very kampung lei! 
10 minutes went by and I am gazing at the murals on the ceiling now. Terribly terribly bored and cold with frozen fingers, I decided to warm myself up by clicking the ceiling. So, I raised the eye viewer, focus and depressed the button: clack!
A loud voice boomed. Unable to decipher what was said, I knew distinctively it was meant for me. I lowered my camera and saw two monks walking in front of me. The one in a yellow silk brocade shirt with a heavy red robe was boring his eyes at me while ‘yelling’ at me in some incomprehensible language. I subconsciously lowered my head and started apologizing profusely in English. As he walked away my brain clicked into action and I was thinking, “WTH?!? It’s ok to take the monks chanting in the main prayer hall, but it’s not ok to take the ceiling. Man… these people got to get their priorities straight.”
More waiting.
A greyish-white Birman appears and jumps on me.
“F@#$. I’m having a terrible cold and my chest is so congested I feel like its gonna explode and now comes this fur ball rubbing itself against my face!!! 
Get off. Get off! 
As if it was a mind reader, the cat screwed it’s face up – eyes barely more than a slit – meows gently at me and jumps off my lap.
OK. The meow got to me. And so did the scrounged up face.
Again, I find myself profusely apologizing to a cat verbally. A cat!
God! It must be the cold. I am partially brain dead. The chanting and cymbals wasn’t helping the situation.
Suddenly I was aware that I was being observed. I looked up and gave a meek smile. The lama summoned me into one of the many rooms. Upon entering I was stunned. Confused. Here I was looking at the same man who ‘yelled’ at me moments ago, smiling broadly, welcoming and inquiring about my well being in an unpretentious and endearing manner. For the life of me I can’t remember what I replied but I am certain that with the lump in my throat and a twisted tongue that refuse to obey its master whose thoughts were scattered all over the place that includes:
  • where is the senior monk?
  • is he the senior monk?… he’s so young
  • oh god! what if he can read my mind? damn. it is said that these senior monks possess magical powers.
  • F@#$ I used the word ‘damn’. Oh god! I used the f-word now.
  • what do I do? what do I say? what do I ask?
If being an absolute idiot blabbering incomprehensible stuff wasn’t embarrassing enough, a khatag (white silk scarf) was shoved into my hands by the ushering lama. Looking confused, the monk with the yellow silk brocade shirt with a heavy red robe took it from my hands and told me to bend my head as he draped it around my neck and knotted it loosely.
{I suddenly jump out of fright! and gave a squeal. I am hugging the Birman tightly}
I can’t be 100% sure if any profanity was verbalized by me … but any how, the cat has found its way into my arms and is clinging on my chest. The two monks looked at me and smiled. The one in the yellow silk brocade shirt with a heavy red robe leans forward with slightly out-stretched arms says “ahhh… my cat likes you”. I try to extricate the cat from my chest but it sinks its claws further into my turtleneck and brushes its face against my neck. With a few more failed attempts it was decided by the monk with the yellow silk brocade shirt with a heavy red robe that I am feeling cold and should have some hot tea with biscuits …
… and with that, I had yak butter tea with the grace of H.H Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche and found myself coaxing a big fur ball to continue living a monastic live in Lingdum Monastery some days back.

6 thoughts on “Travel Diary: Déjà vu, Tibetan Buddhism, Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche, his Cat and I …

  1. Phil – he has the "watcha doing?" look silly! :pXi Ling – good karma? I am not sure about that. I tend to be dealt with life cards of extreme ends!!! Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche is pleasant, vibrant, energetic, intellectual and sincerely warm. He's a breath of fresh air and with rich personalities like him around I am certain Kagyu school will prosper.Lingdum Monastery is large and typically remote and nestled on the hills. Well maintained and relatively new as well.I'll recommend reading 'Dance of 17 Lives' by Mick Brown for those who want to know more about Tibetan Buddhism. Gives you a good broad and somewhat depth on Tibetan Buddhism and the Kagyu school, 16th and 17th Karmapa.

  2. You are very lucky and must have good karma. People wait in queue for years to have an appearance with Zurmang Gharwang Rinpoche. I have only seen him from a very far distance in the center here. Do you have more photos of his monastery? What is the monastery like?Thanks,Xi Ling

  3. YUCK butter tea… can't agree more but the trick is to inhale, gulp and be done with it. The longer you wait for the butter to solidify you are in for it man! Bro – I had massive immigration issues returning last night from Calcutta. Bollocks man. Bollocks!

  4. if u give me another yak butter tea, i seriously would know what to do, because it can be really 'muak'. if u give me the cat…i would hv kicked it away, so much for compassion to all living beings…lol. btw, i always think that monasteries r the most comfortable places to be when in the mountains.

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