Geshe Tashi Tsering enthroned as umze at Gyüme
By Tenzin Tshering
Kuzho Lama, Geshe Tashi Tsering left Australia for India in February 2009, following his appointment by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the position of Lama Umdze at Gyüme Tantric university. Kuzho Lama will be based there for the next six years. His attendant of many years, Buddhist nun Tenzin Tshering, tells the story of Kuzho Lama’ s departure and what happened on their arrival in India.
Touch down in India
Having left Brisbane the night before, after an airport farewell from a huge party of students from Chenrezig Institute and Langri Tangpa Centre, Kuzho Lama, Geshe Tashi Tsering arrived in Bangalore in the company of myself and Tenzin Chödrön around 11.45 pm on 18 February 2009. Although it was late, as we passed through Customs Kuzho Lama was met by a small contingent of monks representing the houses in the Good Fortune Trust's sponsorship programme, bearing khatags and flowers, and his nephew Döndrub Gyatso. The next morning another group representing Kuzho Lama's college at Sera Je Monastery (the Tehor Khangtsen) arrived at our hotel bearing khatags and other offerings. In keeping with Tibetan custom, Chödrön and I, as Kuzho Lama's attendants, were also welcomed and presented with offerings by the officials who had come to honour Kuzho Lama. When we left Bangalore later that morning for the four and a half hour drive to Sera, we did so in something of a small convoy.
As our car approached Kuzho Lama’s house at Sera Je, I could see a long line-up of monks and lay people holding kahatgs, awaiting Kuzho Lama’s arrival and the opportunity to congratulate him on his appointment as Gyume Lama. Kuzho Lama was escorted to the teaching room in his house by his old friend, Geshe Gensun Chophel, and ascended the throne prepared for him there. Chödrön and I were ushered respectfully to our seats, feeling rather self-conscious and out of place in a room otherwise occupied by geshes and very senior monks. Tea and the traditional butter rice, as well as a delicacy from Kuzho Lama’s home region of Tibet, which I usually call ‘sticks in butter’ (they are actually a type of tine sweet potato) were served to the assembly and offered.
Then, beginning with the most senior geshes, everyone began to take their turn offering a mandala and/or their personal offerings to Kuzho Lama. Then followed all the monks and lay people gathered outside the teaching room, who had been waiting until the formalities were over for the opportunity to come in and offer a khatag. For what seemed like a very long time Kuzho Lama graciously greeted and thanked each and every person, even though he was clearly quite tired from the long journey.
Within a couple of days of arriving at Sera, Kuzho Lama attended a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who was staying at Sera (supposedly for a rest, although he actually did give several teachings including a long life empowerment of White Tara and the initiation of Hayagriva). The audience was a formality required for Kuzho Lama to accept the post at Gyume.
In general, the enthronement as Gyüme Lama would have taken place shortly afterwards at the beginning of the Tibetan new year. However, the first Tibetan month this year was deemed a ‘black month’ by the Mentzikhang astrologers, hence it was a bad time to start such important activities. This left Kuzho Lama free to accept an invitation from Tehor Khangtsen, his college at Sera Je, to lead three monks on a fundraising visit to Taiwan.
So, about nine days after first arriving in India, Kuzho Lama, Chödrön and I left for a month in Taiwan! Chödrön picks up the narrative here with stories and pictures of Kuzho Lama's visit to Taiwan, the new friends we made and the big impact Kuzho Lama had on so many of the students he met there.
The next part of our journey brought us to Taiwan. Kuzho Lama had been requested to lead a fundraising teaching tour there, but as the details of the tour were still in the design stage and none of us had ben to Taiwan before, we arrived without any clear idea about how the month before us would unfold. In the end, as it did unfold, it was a trip that touched our hearts.
One of Kuzho Lama’s students from Sera Je, Geshe Jampäl Chödzin, has been based at the Tibetan Government’ s Dharma Centre in Taipei for a number of years and has a committed group of students there. These students quickly rallied around to organise our accommodation, settle us in and show us the local sights of Taipei, giving us a gentle introduction to Taiwan and time to acclimatise ourselves.
There were many students who took us into their hearts and gave their time very generously in taking care of us. We were warmly looked after and taken to wonderful vegetarian restaurants where we could delight at and sometimes wonder about what we were eating! When an unusual looking bowl of something would arrive, Tshering and I would look at each other as if to say, ‘I don’ t know what it is but we’ d better eat it!’ There were some wonderful new taste experiences in the Taiwanese cuisine and also some that were better left to the locals, like ‘Stinky Tofu’, which really was very stinky and definitely an acquired taste — discovered much to Tshering’ s surprise one day!
Three monks from Sera Je Monastery also arrived to join Kuzho Lama on the tour, so there were six of us sharing an apartment very kindly offered by one of the students. We had a constant stream of visitors and the apartment soon became a hub of activity with shared meals, spontaneous group teachings and lively discussions in Tibetan, Chinese and English, usually all happening at once at increasing volumes! There were many moments of laughter and of course constant teasing and ribbing by Kuzho Lama, much to the delight of everyone present.
As the actual events of the tour began, Kuzho Lama gave a number of teachings and empowerments at various centres both in Taipei and in the south of Taiwan. The students warmly embraced Kuzho Lama’s teaching style and humour and were quickly captivated by the beauty of Kuzho Lama’s extraordinary heart and the depth of his wisdom and skill in explaining the dharma. As Kuzho Lama was teaching, the monks and Tshering followed the teachings in Tibetan while Geshe Jampäl Chödzin translated them into Chinese for the students. But because there was no English translation and I cannot speak either Tibetan or Chinese, I quickly discovered that I was the only one in the room not having a clue about what was being said. Tshering very kindly stepped in at those times to give me a personal translation into English from Tibetan — we would huddle together and she would quietly translate into English as Kuzho Lama spoke, while the main translation was given in Chinese over the microphone to the rest of the group.
At different stages of the trip we were treated to some wonderful outings, exploring areas outside Taipei, like the amazing geo-thermal park that Kuzho Lama loved. Tshering and I also had the opportunity to sneak in a couple of extra days’ sightseeing in the city.
When Kuzho Lama and the monks were requested to go to southern Taiwan to perform a special fire puja — a purification ceremony — for a group of students, we travelled on a Super-Fast Train. And it was super fast, a far cry from the Indian style train experience the monks were used to. But even the excitement of the speed and tunnels didn’t stop the monks from catching up on a customary nap, albeit a quick one.
One of the many moving experiences we had in Taiwan was a visit to an animal slaughterhouse. A group of Taiwanese monks and students had organised a prayer and purification practice for the many animals that had been slaughtered there and we were invited to attend. Kuzho Lama gave a moving talk on compassion while standing within the yard which usually holds animals being bought and sold for slaughter, the monks and Kuzho Lama recited the Medicine Buddha puja and all of us participated in the light offering and purifying fire ceremony.
There were many moments of lovely connection during the trip through meetings with monks and nuns from Taiwanese monasteries and centres, underscoring our shared Buddhist values and strengthening the ties between our different traditions. Meeting with Master Hsin Tao and some of the 90 resident nuns at Ling Jiou Mountain Wu-Sheng Monastery, his teaching and retreat centre, was a highlight filled with warm and heartfelt exchanges.
In fulfilling the array of requests for pujas, teachings, empowerments, monastery visits, house blessings, interviews, personal guidance, dinners, lunches and other gatherings, Kuzho Lama gave of himself completely and selflessly, gathering many new devoted students and friends throughout Taiwan. Kuzho Lama has been asked to return to teach and has agreed to do so.
The Taiwanese students and ordained sangha of the different centres and monasteries we visited were extremely generous and kind in their care of us and in making many offerings which will benefit the Tehor Khangtsen of Sera Je Monastery. We thank them all from our hearts. As we said our goodbyes, it was with a sense of knowing that a deep and lasting connection has been made.
Tshering continues the story back at Sera Je
After a month in Taiwan, Kuzho Lama returned to India with Chödrön and I tagging along as before. From Bangalore airport we headed to Sera Je Monastery for a couple of days, to await an auspicious day for Kuzho Lama to take up his position at Gyüme Tantric University. During these few days a long life puja was offered to Kuzho Lama by the monks in the sponsorship programme and their teachers.
Then it was finally time to leave for Gyüme Monastery. A motorcade of vehicles left Sera Je Monastery at four o’clock that morning, 2 April, 2009, carrying Kuzho Lama, most of his old friends, his nephews and his attendants, including Chödrön and me, on the sixty minute drive.
The day before, 40 or 50 of Kuzho Lama's students from Sera Je Monastery had already left for Gyüme (in the back of a truck!) to begin the mammoth job of preparing all the food and tea that would be offered by Kuzho Lama throughout the day. First, butter tea and Tibetan bread were offered to all 500 Gyüme monks during the early morning assembly. Tea and butter rice were offered during the enthronement ceremony itself later in the morning. Then a huge lunch was offered to all the Gyüme monks, the guests and workers who had come from Sera Je and the representatives of the local Tibetan community. In the afternoon, tea was served again to an assembly of the whole monastery. Tibetans do love their tea! Finally in the late afternoon there was a special dinner for all the monks. The large team of Kuzho Lama's students responsible for all this did an amazing job in difficult conditions, and always with a smile and an air of joy.
Once Kuzho Lama had arrived at Gyüme early that morning, the first order of the day was for him to receive the monastery's officials and elders in his room where a throne had been set up for the purpose. Prayers followed (and, of course, tea!). The actual ceremony known as the enthronement occurred mid-morning, attended only by the monastery's officials and elders and Kuzho Lama's invited guests. It was relatively brief, apparently a scaled-down version of the much bigger and grander ceremony which will accompany Kuzho Lama's succession as Abbot in three years' time.
Carrying the characteristic implements of a Gyüme monk including a traditional begging bowl, Kuzho Lama was escorted from his room to the main prayer hall by a long procession of monks wearing the high yellow hats of the Gelugpa school. A brief ceremony was held in the forecourt before Kuzho Lama was escorted inside and took up his throne at the head of the assembly. After the tea and butter rice, the assembled monks made prostrations and offered manadalas to Kuzho Lama, who looked at his most imposing, yet completely humble, throughout the whole ceremony. At the end Kuzho Lama made offerings to His Holiness's throne and all the holy images, as is customary, then left the prayer hall amidst the procession of dignitaries, as the rank and file Gyüme monks filed in for prayers and lunch. After the lunch break, during an assembly of the whole monastery — over which Kuzho Lama presided for the first time as the Gyüme Lama Umdze — he made offerings of money in addition to more tea. Everything was sponsored by Kuzho Lama as a customary part of his enthronement as Lama Umdze.
I didn't really understand most of what was happening or the symbolic meaning of the events that day so I'm at a loss to explain the proceedings in any detail. I hope that the photos are able to tell the story for me!
My lasting impression of the day is this: for me, it was one of those occasions when Kuzho Lama's great mastery at the game of ordinary appearance dropped away for a moment and the extraordinary being he really is became evident. I am amazed at my good fortune in having found such a perfect teacher whose kindness and other excellent qualities are immeasurable.