My delicate condition was easing, thank goodness. A flood of people was circumambulating the stupa, and the number of beggars shot up too, today forming a continuous ring around the stupa. It was not just any old new moon, but Mata Tirtha Aunsi, Nepali Mother’s Day. Beggars come here because it’s a relatively safe place to survive, and people come because it’s a relatively safe place to give money to beggars. And today was a big day for it.
One business that thrives on such days is the sale of large bundles of low-denomination notes. With such a bundle, a donor can then go around the whole ring of beggars, giving a few rupees to each. Yes, each gift is tiny, but a beggar can expect to receive hundreds of them on a day like this, so it’s not to be missed.
A notice had been put up in the guesthouse, announcing that there would be an all-day chöd practice in the room at the top of the house, the room that had been the late Akong Rinpoche’s interview room. The version of chöd would be different from the one I know, and in any case I didn’t have my texts with me, let alone the large hand-drum and kangling trumpet. All the same, it might be nice to go along and sit in for a bit, so after breakfast I found the upper room. It reminded me of a large and comfortable living room, except for the small stupa in the corner, associated with Akong Rinpoche. I wasn’t clear whether all or some of his ashes are in there – it’s possible. There were half a dozen practitioners there by the time I left, all of them clearly devoted to the practice.
But my time was limited, as I still had to think carefully about how far I was from a toilet, and I wanted to go to the Chenrezi empowerment being given in the afternoon by Thrangu Rinpoche. So I took yet another little rest, then made my way up to the venue, the “Shree Mangal Dvip” school Thrangu had founded twenty years earlier. Over the previous several days a “Mani Drubchen” had been held there. This means that hundreds of people, celibate and lay alike, recite vast numbers of manis (the “Om Mani Peme Hung” mantra – but I expect you knew that) for days on end. On the last day, Rinpoche gives an empowerment, which in this case it is more of a “blessing” than the sort of empowerment that is a specific preparation for tantric practices.
So there I was, sat on a mat in a marquee, surrounded by Tibetans, perhaps a couple of hundred of them, outside the shrine room of the school.
The main hall was generally reserved for monks, nuns and high worthies. Plus those who might sneak in, as one or two did, much to the amusement of everyone else. I was getting a lot of stares from a couple of people a row or so in front of me, and felt a bit uncomfortable until they patted the ground to say, “Come and sit next to us, there’s room here.” When we had to make the “mandala gesture” and, ideally, toss a few grains of rice into the air as an offering, it was a woman on the other side who saw that I hadn’t got any rice with me, and gave me a bit from her bag of empowerment kit. I had been welcomed.
In fact I couldn’t see a blind thing of whatever was going on inside the main room. The event proceeded slowly, as everything that was said in Tibetan was then translated into Nepali, which was no use to me at all. Luckily I’ve been to enough of these things that I could follow the general shape of the event. It was hot and uncomfortable in the marquee, but there were plenty more people just standing outside in the hot sun, so I could hardly complain.
And then – it was time to go up and get our individual blessings. What fun! A less pleasant side of the Tibetan character was on show. The push towards the corner where we would be let out of the marquee to eventually file in front of Rinpoche was, well, quite stupid. The woman behind me took firm hold of my body, using it as a ram to push forward, so making sure that there was not one, single half-inch for air between me and the person in front. Fisticuffs didn’t quite happen, but they were very close; guys were facing up to each other, fist raised and heads quivering backwards and forwards in that “come on then, I’ll show you who’s hard” sort of way – a body language that transcends cultures.
And “stupid” really was the word. The human press dislodged a stanchion at the corner of the marquee, threatening collapse. A number of helpers (and what patience they must have had) now had to form a row, arm-in-arm, to force the devotees back from the corner, while a number of others applied all their strength to get the scaffolding back where it belonged. If it had collapsed there would likely have been dozens of injuries, some possibly fatal. So yes, “stupid”. Did they think that the blessing was going to go cold if they didn’t get there in the next few minutes?
All was well in the end, and with everyone else I filed past for the touch on top of the head, the amulet, the blessing pills, the bananas, the little torma cake, the blessing cord, and everything else that you get to take home.
I ran into Marisa and Julien outside, and walked back to the stupa zone with them. I had to nip back to my guesthouse loo, and then joined them for a beer, but I was so tired I just had to go for yet another sleep.
A couple of rounds of the stupa in the evening, and that was it.
The little torma cake: