When we visited the monastery in Rumtek, it was in 1971 some 40 years ago, and so there are many structural changes, and the temple may not be exactly as it was then, but the photos displayed on the net, including this one, yet give quite an idea of the architecture and in general, a good idea of what the surrounding countryside looked like.
In this photo, I can see and remember so well, the entrance to the temple. On the left, are the living quarters of the monks. There is a balcony above the main entrance. It was from there that monks with large, long bugle-like instruments blew sounds of welcome when the jeeps in which we were travelling brought us into the main entrance.
There were no digital cameras in those days and so I am writing from the pictures in my mind.
We travelled from the city below by jeeps and we were roughly over a dozen of us, men and some women.
There was a lodge close by where some stayed but the others, including myself were allowed to sleep in the temple. We were instructed to do so with our feet facing the entrance and our heads to the altars.
The road leading here was one of the most unforgettable ones I have ever been on. For every turn in the road the scenery was exquisite and I remember thinking to myself that it was like so many Japanese gardens, I mean the way in which the rice paddies were organized. In the country where I was born, rice was planted in flat fields in low lands and water-logged. Here the sides of the hills were kinda sliced and the water withheld and there grew the rice. There were bamboo patches which created quite a beautiful effect.
Finally we turned a bend and there was the monastery and as we got closer we became aware of the monks on the balcony and as we drove into the yard and climbed out of the jeeps, they played and it was a goose-pimple moment.
We had a group_ meeting in which we were given instructions and a schedule. we had a visa of three days and there was no time to lose as we had talks, and most of all we had to assist at some special ceremonies.
I remember my first night sleeping in the temple. It was never completely dark as the tiny oil lamps cast shadows dancing on the walls revealing some paintings of the protective deities and tankas of Buddhas which hung on the pillars. It was very peaceful and with the fatigue of the journey it was not long before I fell asleep.
The morning bathroom activities are the most original of my life as we the men, had to share the same as the monks. If you have never been in a bathroom in India, its quite an experience which I refrain from sharing here but I leave to the imagination.
As for the meals, we had mostly soup and I hardly remember other details except that It was tasty but there were no spoons, just chopsticks, so I drank most of the soup and fought wiggling the veges out with chopsticks, a rather frustrating experience when one is hungry!
The first two days went by so quickly and on the morning of the third day, I awoke early as usual with the sounds of the rustling of the monks robes and the preparations in the temple for the morning prayers. Many lamps have to be attended to. I got up and rolled up my sleeping rug and hurried outside to the area where I left my sandals. They were on the gallery outside and in the dark I bent down and buckled up and on raising my head, I hit the top of my forehead a terrible blow on part of a sculptured curve on one of the pillars. I did not calculate properly and on raising straight up I could not miss this ornament. Of course my head was busted and blood began to flow. I ran out to the stand pipe and taking cold water I began to wash the wound hoping that the cold water would stop the flow.
One of the pilgrims came up that moment and seeing me, enquired, “Rolph, is that blood?” “Yes, I hit my head on a pillar.” “Come close near this light so I can see!” he said. He was a doctor from Toronto and to my horror he exclaimed; “My God Rolph, you need stitches and I did not bring anything. I dont even have any band aids and this wound needs stitching. What have you done to me?” He made me try and hold the wound, pressing as if to keep the two sides together and he said, “Wait here I am going to see if any of the nuns have some sewing needles and thread”. I was horrified and my mind was racing fed by imagination.
I dont remember how long it was but one of the monks came running to me and took me to his room where he had a basin of water with which he washed the wound and bandaged it. I felt better and on coming outside there was my doctor again and I was relieved when he said that he could not find anyone with a needle and so I would have to keep my head tied until tomorrow. I wanted to disappear! I stood out in the crowd like some weirdo wearing a white head wrap!
This was the most important day for us as we were told that we will be receiving a special blessing from Karmapa. We will be allowed to witness the “Black hat ceremony” and then we will be going up to his seat for individual blessings. I noticed that our group went in and were seated up front. I was shy and sat with the locals who were all smiles.
These people are, I thought, the most beautiful peaceful people I have ever met in my entire life. after all they have been submitted to, chased out of their country, so many massacred by the Chinese soldiers and now struggling to make ends meet and they were always smiling. I sat with them and they made a space for me and indicated how I should hold my hands in the different mudras etc.
I forgot the stupid cloth around my head and got absorbed in the chants and the ceremony.
I dont know how many of you have witnessed a solemn High Mass with cardinals and deacons and lots of incense and ritual, well, in the Tibetan ceremonies in these temples it is little in comparison. There are certain aspects which seem yet so similar. The chanting and the musical instruments used, surpass anything I have ever witnessed and it just makes your hair stand on end.
There is a good example of the Black hat ceremony which I have put up on a few posts prior to this, in which we see the Karmapa of that time, as he puts on the hat and holds it during the ceremony. You may also easily find all about this on the utube.
Then came the moment when we were invited to go up to receive his blessings and my turn came and when I did he looked at me and laughed, and his smile was so big and welcoming then he beckoned me close as he stooped from his throne and close to my ear he whispered a mantra. I repeated it and he smiled and with the dorge he touched my head and I left. I can never forget this holy man.
The sixteenth Karmapa who was considered the second in line to the Dalai Lama and today his successor, is now, we are told, the spiritual leader who will assume replacing the Dalai Lama in turn.
Watching this on utube will give you a better idea than a thousand words.
I remember us getting into the jeeps to leave and the monks came around to say farewell. we had made friends with some and exchanged addresses. I never ever thought that I would ever see Tibetan monks again. It was such a far away distant land and it was sad leaving. we had to hurry to catch a train somewhere which took us to Delhi and from one day in Delhi, a plane back to Toronto. I saw the doctor in Delhi where he took off the cloth and instead put a plaster and told me not to take it off until I arrived in London. I did so in the hotel room where I stayed for the night before catching the plane in the morning. I looked at the wound in the mirror and to my surprise it was clean, no scar!
That morning I meditated and I tried recalling the mantra which Karmapa gave me at the ceremony but I just could not get it!
The next day when I arrived in Toronto and my very first night there I had a dream. I was back in the temple in Rumtek taking part in the ceremony. Again I went up and there he was smiling and he bent over to my ear and whispered the mantra and I awoke!
This time I will not forget. I jumped out of bed and wrote it down. Later in the day I called Curt, who was one of the guys who came with us from Toronto. “Curt, can you tell me if this is the mantra?” and I repeated it and he said “Yes Rolph, that’s It!
In this video, you will see the new Karmapa 17th as he chants the mantra. It is no secret!