Reflections on Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling
Erik Pema Kunsang
In this life, I have seen a lot of shrine halls, including the ancient Tibetan temples of Jokhang, Samye, and Tramdruk, amazing places that are part of our priceless world heritage. With their wonderful statues and architecture, they inspire us to connect with the Buddha’s teachings and to understand their depth. In our time, the importance of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling equals those legendary temples by giving all of us the opportunity to receive and practice the Buddha’s teachings.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche personally supervised the building of Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling and all its artwork. Besides being a meditation master of the highest caliber, he was also a fine calligrapher and excellent sculptor. On one occasion in 1975, I watched him make a statue of the goddess Tseringma, riding a snow lion. This masterpiece, simply outstanding, is kept in a small annex-chapel at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling. He built the figure up from nothing, adding a bit of clay here and there, as if he saw the goddess before him in person, only needing to copy her. It was almost miraculous to see his hands conjure this beautiful figure out of thin air. Every time I think of Tseringma, I remember his gracefulness and gentle attention to detail.
Years later, the yogi and expert painter Gyangtse Lhadri was called upon to paint original frescoes on the walls in the main hall. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche decided the layout, making sure that all the buddhas and deities of the most important practices were included. I especially love the paintings of the twelve Dzogchen buddhas with their unusual retinues seated in rainbow clouds, and the depiction of the buddhafield Chokgyur Lingpa spontaneously manifested after his passing, as well as the mandala of the Lion of Speech, which is so auspicious for learning and for teaching others.
The Ka-Nying shrine hall has been blessed by nearly all the greatest masters of our time. Here I witnessed them give Dzogchen transmission and profound advice on spiritual practice. Thousands of meditators took the bodhisattva vow and participated in the yearly grand assembly practices. In 1980, the monastery hosted the first autumn seminar of Rangjung Yeshe Institute. Since then, people from all countries have gathered around Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche and Tsikey Chokling Rinpoche to gain a deeper understanding of their lives and the nature of mind.
For over forty years, my life has been closely connected to Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling. It is the residence of my true dharma family, my home and the place where I was given the fortune to translate for thousands of people. Every atom in the temple hall is saturated with the blessings of our lineage masters. A true sanctuary for teaching and realization, it has inspired people to take the path to liberation and enlightenment. I pray that this activity will continue for thousands of years.
Dr. Thomas Doctor
In October 1988, I came to Kathmandu for the first time–basically to renew my Indian visa so that I could continue my Sanskrit and Vedanta studies in India. While in Kathmandu, I thought I should try to find out what Buddhists had to say about Vedanta, since by then I had heard a fair amount of criticism the other way. So from my hotel off Durbar Square I bicycled out to Boudhanath, and during my visit to the great stupa, I asked my philosophy questions to everyone whom I thought looked potentially knowledgeable and somewhat approachable in English. But nobody seemed to know what I was talking about.
The day went on and the sun began to sink; it was time to head back to Kathmandu. On Boudha Road, I decided to make a last stop at a bookshop that dealt in Tibetan Dharma books and also carried a couple of titles in English. Inside the little shop, I heard a young American man about my own age having a simple conversation in Tibetan with the woman at the counter. “He might know,” I thought, and so I asked him if he knew what, if anything, might distinguish the approaches of Nāgārjuna and Śaṅkarācārya. “I have no idea,” answered the young man, “But why don’t you come with me tomorrow. There is a monastery nearby where the abbot is teaching a seminar on Buddhism. I go there every day. Why don’t you come along and ask the lama? He will know.” “Excellent!” I thought, and after the man had explained me how to get to the monastery, we arranged to meet the next morning in front of the temple hall. I bicycled back to town, happy and excited to know that I had good reason to come back the next day.
The morning came and another day of deep blue October skies began. I bicycled back to Boudhanath and found my way to Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling. The man from yesterday was not there when I came, nor did he show up while I waited. It was getting time for the lama’s teaching so I decided to just follow the others and climb the stairs. In his audience room above the temple hall, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche was teaching the Jewel Ornament of Liberation. I signed up for the seminar, and although I never asked that question to Rinpoche, a few days later I took refuge in the Three Jewels. I never saw the young American man again.. But I often think of him–the friendly, blond man who spoke Tibetan in that little bookshop on the Boudha Road, at sunset on that day in October in 1988. What if I had never met him? I feel like I owe him my life. At times I even catch myself wondering whether he was human after all.
Whenever I remember these things I think: how easily I might just have cycled back to my guesthouse, never to return. Petty blind choices and merciless coincidence typically decide the way things turn out. And at the same time, I feel so terribly lucky that I was able to find my way. There is shock and exuberance, fear and joy–all in the same moment. I’m not a saved soul, but I feel that I know what it means to be one… Perhaps you know what I mean.
In any case, each of us has a story of this sort, and there are so many of us. So many different lives, and yet we all found our way to Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling. And so we keep finding that which one otherwise hardly dares dream. Our monastery is a fountain of goodness and fortune, and don’t they say the only way to keep good fortune is by sharing it? So I tell myself: let’s build back even better. In body, speech, and mind.
When I came from my village to Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, I was nine years old. I remember a little bit about the journey to Kathmandu; it was very, very difficult! In some places, you could not even walk, you would have to crawl along slowly and carefully and there were no bridges across the rivers, only two sticks to walk across! Most of the time while we traveled, my father carried me on his back to keep me safe from danger.
When we reached the lower hills, I remember I saw a car for the first time and I was really scared of it. When we arrived at Ka-Nying Shedrub Ling, I became a monk; Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche did the hair-cutting ceremony for me and my brother. At that time, there were six young boys from our village in Nubri. Now, only me and my older brother are left.
At the time I first arrived, the lhakhang and the gompa looked the same as they do now, but there were no paintings on the walls. The painting and gold were added much later. One very famous painter, a student of Dudjom Rinpoche, Gyangtse Lhadri, came to paint all the images on the walls.
A short time after I became a monk, there was a big puja going on, maybe a drubchen; it was our first one. I was still not used to being at the gompa or being a monk. Back in my village we used to eat six times a day, but, at the gompa, we ate only three times a day. Oh, we felt very hungry! At puja time, we would offer pau roti (Nepali bread) for the tsok feast offering. Then, two days after the offering, we would get to eat this bread. Even though we were small, and would rather play, we were so happy to sit in the puja because of this! The bread was hard and stale, but it didn’t matter; we would dip it in our tea and tear it apart with our teeth. The older monks would tease us so much for doing this, for eating like this.
I feel the lhakhang and the statues inside are really special. When I was young, I didn’t know they were made by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, although, they were not fully made by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, there were many helpers working all together. It is only the statues at Nagi Gompa were made only by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. When I look at other statues, I never feel a feeling like when I look at these statues; the shape and design of these are really special.
There are, of course, many famous Nepali statue makers and they make beautiful statues, but my eyes have been spoiled by these statues at our gompa! I really feel there is something different and special about them. This must be since they were made by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and blessed by so many Nyingma, Sakya, and Kagyu lamas.
I feel very sad now that the lhakhang is damaged. In the moment when the earthquake came, my fear came up–I never even remembered to go out of my room! I just held my altar and all of my books were falling on my head. My friends said later, “You are so stupid! Why didn’t you come outside?” It wasn’t until I heard them calling me from downstairs that I remembered, and that’s when I went out of my room. My mindfulness was totally lost at that moment. After that though, I only thought about the monastery. Everyone was the same way, thinking, “What is going to happen to our monastery?” We could see the lhakhang moving, swaying back and forth, as the aftershocks came. It made a painful impression on us. We thought, “When is the lhakhang going to collapse in on itself from all of these aftershocks?”
Actually, it’s a very big problem that this old lhakhang is not big enough for everyone. When we had big pujas, many students could not come inside. We need a much bigger one, of better quality. But, sadly, our minds are still with this old lhakhang one hundred percent. We really love and have faith in this building. We have spent many years here, and received so many blessings. Now, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche says they will take it down, but they will try to preserve the statues. We feel this is the right thing to do since a lot of effort went into making this building, not only money. It’s a very special place.
However, I am still quite worried about expenses for the building of the new monastery. I hope we can quickly complete the new lhakhang, and my prayer is that everyone—monks, nuns, foreign students, Nepali students—can gather together there in an unbiased and open-hearted way.
Dear friends, this earthquake has, I’m sure, made us all reflect on the amazing kindness that the monastery has showered upon us. Although we all have different stories to tell, I am sure that today we all feel the same. Honestly speaking, I tell myself, where would I be today without the Rinpoches, lamas, monks, and nuns, who have helped, guided and nourished me throughout all these years? Without them, I don’t know where and what I would be today.
I think of the amazing activities that have flourished in our monastery, and made us flourish in return. All the seminars, in which Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, Chokling Rinpoche, and Phakchok Rinpoche have given us an abundance of liberating and profound instructions, never holding anything back. At drubchens and pujas, the monks and nuns have welcomed us with meals and unceasing streams of tea–opening their temple to us and inviting us to join the profound practices that they themselves cherish most dearly.
If the monastery had not provided such warm and rich grounds, where would all the learned and kind khenpos and lamas have come from, who now teach at the international university and at our Gomde centers? Without our monastery, where would we all have gone to study the authentic words of the Buddha, and to learn the philosophies and languages of Buddhism? Rangjung Yeshe and Dharmachakra have offered us priceless Dharma treasures in the English language. Also that would hardly have happened without the supportive community and environment that the monastery has provided.
Without the monastery–our noble mother–there would be no Gomde centers; there would be no Tara’s Triple Excellence Meditation program, and we would have no monastic community to rely on when we have difficulties and need prayers, blessings, and support.
Now more than ever, it is time to respond to all this kindness and warmth. Let us not hesitate or hold back in any way and instead find ways to join and support the pledge to rebuild program. Here we can all easily become part of the noble effort to restore this great center for Buddhist study and practice to its original splendor by opting to donate a dollar a day for the duration of three years. This is not much; in fact, it is less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, but if many people join this pledge, the new temple can be quickly rebuilt.
My personal feeling is that it is not a matter of asking people to donate or to be generous, but of making everybody understand what a priceless and rare opportunity it is to be able to help and become part of this project, which will be the source of so much benefit and happiness in this world.